Friendship and Social Emotional Support at Camp

Finding the right summer camp to meet your child’s needs can be tricky.  Recently, we sat down with our friends at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, to talk about what they say makes their summer camps so unique, particularly in the realm of social-emotional learning. Here is what they had to say.

1) What does it mean to have a camp that is strong in social-emotional learning?
Camp is a natural place with a unique social environment. It takes away the academic rigor and pressures that come from school and classroom style learning and adds in a multitude of social and emotional factors. When investigating camps, parents should take the time to understand the culture at a camp around these issues.  Ask about how social problems are resolved and what the philosophy is regarding conflict and disagreement among campers.  Learn about  how both counselors and campers are supported by other professionals such as social workers and other mental health professionals. 

The relationships that are formed in camp differ from those formed in other places.  Often, children reinvent themselves in a camp setting and experiment a bit with who they want to be.  If it's a good fit, campers are doing things that they enjoy and feel some proficiency or confidence in. At the JCC, there are many opportunities for kids to be physically active in sports, swimming and recreational activities allowing for experimentation and collaboration. The JCC model provides opportunities to build confidence, overcome fears and learn about friendship.  We pride ourselves on having tight-knit groups of children for full days which allows an opportunity for community bonding. Sessions are 3.5 to 4 weeks long which is long enough for campers to get to know each other well and form relationships.

2) What is the culture of the camp?
Community building and relationship building both between and among campers and staff members are encouraged passionately.  Social justice and cultural awareness function as vehicles to foster a strong sense of community.  Building friendships, showing empathy and empowering other campers is also central to the JCC philosophy.  At the core, all of our recreational activities focus on camper collaboration; getting to know your friends  and becoming a supportive and engaged member of the community.

3) What makes your camp different?
First, the size of our groups and number of staff.  The camp consists of relatively small groups with 15-18 campers in each bunk and 4-5 staff members. This allows for personal engagement between each staff member and child.  One of the main goals of each staff member is to encourage certain friendships for kids who wouldn’t necessarily know each other.  The camp seeks to connect kids with similar interests and focuses on finding unique relationship pieces.  The fact that two children from totally different backgrounds and interests can find common bonds and build a friendship is a hallmark of the JCC camp. 

Second, there is an emphasis on staff orientation and training throughout the summer which includes a strong SEL component. Counselors are trained to understand what is developmentally appropriate for their target group of campers, how to resolve problems and how to help each child be their best selves.

4) What mental health staff do you have and how are they integrated into the community?
Our Camper Care team helps transition the school child to their camp space. If a child gets related services, it is the job of these individuals to transplant and translate these services into camp speak.  Camper Care coordinates with the child’s related services before the summer and throughout in order to remain informed and meet the child’s individual needs. They inform the camp team about each child and provide strategies for children to be successful. 

5.) ALSO A favorite program pick for us is The Meeting House After Camp Summer Program !

Based out of The Parkside School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  Each afternoon we offer fun, friendship & community through vibrant enrichment activities, where a team of teaching artists, educators and social worker direct children in exciting group classes and activities.  Whether it’s our signature Kite Club sessions or the student performance of  The Greatest Showman’s “This Is Me,” the fundamental importance of helping kids develop social skills such as empathy, self-awareness, flexibility, self-regulation and resiliency is always grafted into the camp experience.  The Meeting House helps kids to develop these essential skills while fostering relationships between peer groups. During the natural process of play, combined with socialization opportunities throughout their time with us, friendships naturally and organically can flourish.  Recreation and enrichment activities that we offer change regularly but include: Sports & Fitness, Music, Drama, Yoga, Visual Arts, Improvisation and Humor.

Program runs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 3:30 - 6:00 PM,  July 10 - August 13