Camp Pinnacle – Helping Build the Skills Which Lead to Adult Success.

John Dockendorf20 Jul, 2013
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We just finished our second session and we hated for these wonderful campers to leave us.  Despite the wettest July in recorded weather history, we have been having a lot of fun.  Every camper has rock climbed, summited a mountain, white water rafted, and camped out. What is apparent to me is how much our campers are being affected by their camp experience and how their achievements (both social and physical) are building the confidence and other skills that will help them later in life. Meanwhile, they are simply having a great time with friends, enjoying nature and an escape from their busy lives.

Boys Cabin Playing Games
Boys Cabin Playing Games

As parents, we all want our kids to be successful. The definition of what defines success varies of course from family to family. Often we correlate success with income.  Living in poverty does make one less likely to be happy but after a comfortable level of income, all the research demonstrates that wealth alone is not a predictor of happiness.  So, if ultimately we decide it’s more important for our kids to become happy adults rather than rich adults, then we may look for other outcomes towards which to steer our kids.  We believe that happiness is better correlated with having a large degree of control in the direction of one’s life, having the ability to pursue one’s interests, feeling that one’s energy and efforts make a difference in the lives of others and being able to contribute to something greater than self. Having a large network of friends, and a close family are also key indicators.

So, at Camp Pinnacle we are working to help our campers grow in ways that correlate highest with the outcomes listed above. We believe (and research supports) that the key skills kids need to reach these outcomes are social achievement, optimism, self – esteem and resilience.  While some kids do have a genetic predisposition to these qualities, the great thing is that these are for the most part skills rather than innate traits which can be learned, practiced and improved. We feel the Camp Pinnacle program is uniquely suited to help campers practice these competencies.

Research by Christine Carter has shown that a person’s happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of their social connections.  Our outdoor environment and strong community focus makes Camp Pinnacle a fantastic place to improve social achievement or the ability to form and maintain relationships (a 2010/11 UNH Study on Social Achievement in the outdoors demonstrated that our sister program Adventure Treks significantly improved student social achievement scores.)

High self – esteem has also been a great predictor of success. The world went a bit askew, however, when this was discovered. Folks thought that if every kid was constantly told they were great, they would have high self-esteem.  It didn’t work. (Except for the trophy factories)  Praise only works when it’s earned.  And, it’s always best to praise kids for working hard rather than for being smart or talented. Kids who are praised for working hard are more eager to try even harder the next time, while kids who are praised for being smart are less likely to try hard because if they fail, then they will ”no longer be considered smart.”

Practicing Archery at Camp Pinnacle
Practicing Archery at Camp Pinnacle

An optimistic outlook on life is said to be a bigger predictor of success than IQ. Resilience ties in with optimism in that both give one the ability to feel that one has an element of control over their life.  If you know that you will rise above whatever life throws you, and that you can eventually solve most any problem that comes your way (usually through hard work and some help from your friends), you are more likely to have the confidence to pursue your chosen path. Having fun in a rainstorm, while hiking uphill in the mud is a great way to build resilience.  We did a lot of that this session! Many places might call this torture. At Camp Pinnacle, we make it fun!

Our goal at Camp Pinnacle is to give kids the tools for success.  First off, we are not miracle workers.  14 days at Camp Pinnacle won’t give you a resilient kid, if she or he was not before.  We know we begin with great kids in the first place. But we do know from the success of our campers and the credits their families are sending our way, that what we do is working!

Here is a model from Harvard Psychologist; Edward Hallowell that best describes why Camp Pinnacle works. Disclaimer – we developed, tweaked and re-tweaked our program first and this model just happens to fit.  Of course, having a leading Harvard Child psychologist and noted author build a model that correlates well with what Camp Pinnacle does, makes us smile!

Connections – Play – Practice – Mastery – Recognition

Connections - Play - Practice - Mastery - Recognition

For kids to grow, it is most effectively done when they are in a safe place. That begins with feeling a huge sense of connection, like a functional family.  At Camp Pinnacle, the focus especially in the early days of the session is to lay the groundwork for a good cabin and camp community.  We get to know our campers, make them feel comfortable and let them know we care about both their experience and their success.  This forms the basis that lets them grow. Removing them from society without electronics and having a 1:4 counselor to camper ratio helps the cabin community evolve safely, quickly and in the directions we intend.

At Camp Pinnacle, we begin by letting our campers take a break from the pressures of school and give them an opportunity to actually “play.” Kids don’t play as much anymore and compared with past generations, our kids are “more pressured” than ever before. But we play hard at Camp and create an environment that is very conducive to making new friends.  Spare time is filled with zany fun games. Without electronics, creativity soars.  And of course Camp is filled with activities that are exciting, fun and challenging. When kids feel comfortable and are having a lot of fun – the groundwork for growth has been laid.

Campers Exploring Wolff Lake in Canoes
Campers Exploring Wolff Lake in Canoes

Confidence comes from competence and in a time in history when kids have lots of intellectual talent but fewer hands on skills, we give our campers the opportunity to learn many new abilities. From setting up a tent, to archery, to stand up paddle boarding to learning how to canoe; Campers quickly gain new skills in a large variety of new areas.  These new competencies build real confidence because our kids have genuinely accomplished something. Learning many new things and succeeding beyond expectations, magnifies growth. Kids “Practice” new skills with instructor direction and coaching until they reach a new level of competence.  Kids track their progress in their Level Books. While it’s hard to reach “Mastery” in two short weeks, the number of new things a camper accomplishes at Camp Pinnacle is significant.

Then we recognize and praise. Our hat presentations are a vehicle where campers are publicly praised in front of their peers for their accomplishments.  During our nightly evening meetings, campers and instructors “plus” (or praise) each other.  By appropriately recognizing real accomplishments, we are building real self – esteem.

This year, again and again I hear the real pride our campers are taking in their genuine accomplishments; From summitting mountains, to making friends, to thriving without electronics, to climbing a rock and trying a zip line, to contributing to the success of a group and feeling like an integral part of the community’s success – all are small steps towards building skills our campers will rely on later in life.

Thank you for sharing such wonderful young people with us.  I am constantly amazed but never surprised at how fantastic our Camp Pinnacle campers are!

– Dock

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