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What Do Summer Camps Have to Do with Digital Citizenship?

Learn how the skills kids gain over the summer can help them be great digital citizens.

Zoe Steckler | August 1, 2017

Summer camps give kids the chance to unplug and enjoy life’s simple pleasures, like swimming in a lake or roasting marshmallows over a campfire. Campers escape the school-year pressures of homework and grades and instead embrace childhood, playing games for the sake of having fun.

But while summer camp is a break from school, it’s not a break from learning. And though we don’t always think of them as such, camp counselors are actually educators. From modeling respect to exuding enthusiasm, counselors teach campers crucial social and emotional skills that enrich kids’ lives and make them better learners in all contexts.

In fact, at unplugged summer camps across the United States and the world, students are also learning to be better digital citizens. This may seem surprising, but citizenship isn’t solely about knowing how to use technology. It’s about being open-minded with technology and using it in creative ways in order to build inclusive, supportive communities. And at camp, kids do exactly that.

Camps Celebrate Creativity

I was a camper for six summers and a counselor for five -- so far. Creative programming is at the heart of my camp. We like to say that we don’t have an archery range or a stable of horses, but we have a staff of imaginative counselors who can take mundane supplies like bouncy balls and foam noodles and turn them into something magical.

Letting their imaginations run wild at camp prepares kids to think creatively when using technology.

At camp, I’ve communicated with extraterrestrials, traveled back to feudal Japan, celebrated the works of Roald Dahl, and climbed up the ranks from lowly serf to powerful queen. By tapping into their imaginations, campers immerse themselves in the make-believe worlds created in tandem with their counselors. Summer camp encourages kids to exercise creativity and think outside the box, both of which are important skills in our digital world.

Kids’ creative possibilities are truly endless, and digital technology offers them new ways to express themselves. Letting their imaginations run wild at camp prepares kids to think creatively when using technology. Creativity at camp helps kids embrace creativity online, nurturing original, clever, and imaginative digital citizens.

Camps Honor Differences

Summer camp plays an important role in kids’ identity development, giving them a chance to explore their interests and try out different roles. As counselors, we empower kids by giving them choices, both to practice skills they already have and to acquire new ones. I love to plan games that all different types of people can enjoy. In my favorite game, kids self-select numerous roles: “brains” solve a puzzle, “brawns” collect supplies, and “builders” create a structure. The roles all complement one another, and everyone contributes toward a collective goal in a different way.

Honoring differences is key to digital citizenship, and of course, kids have the chance to practice this at camp.

Much like teachers tailoring lessons to different modes of learning, camp schedules alternate between high- and low-energy activities, and include a range of sports, drama, and art activities. That way, all kids are able to feel both validated and challenged. In addition, they learn to appreciate both the similarities and differences between themselves and their peers.

One crucial element of digital citizenship is respectful communication. Since the internet brings together people from all over the world, kids can come into contact with people who are very different from themselves. Honoring these differences is key to digital citizenship, and of course, kids have the chance to practice this at camp. Campers participate in various activities and meet kids from other schools, helping them navigate and respect people’s differences.

Camps Highlight Community

Summer camps bring together people of different ages, hometowns, and backgrounds. Digital communities bring together people on an even broader scale. From school blogs to gaming sites to social media, kids are members of countless communities online, and knowing how to be a good community member is critical. Practicing being a respectful community member at camp helps kids do the same online, which is essential with the increasingly social nature of technology.

Summer camp “lifers” love camp with a fiery passion. A strong sense of community is one facet of what drives campers and counselors alike to return to camp summer after summer. Many counselors at my camp haven’t missed a summer since they were 5!

At my camp, our celebration of community is embodied on All-Camp Shabbat, a Friday toward the end of the session on which everyone -- from kindergarteners to high schoolers -- enjoys a day together. We demonstrate our ruach (Hebrew for “spirit”) by performing cheers with our programs, and the day concludes with a campwide friendship circle, in which we sing our daily farewell song. The sense of community is palpable: Siblings play together, counselors reunite with campers from previous summers, and everyone appreciates the shared magic of camp.

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