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Love — 365 Days a Year

February 01, 2008
Heart-shaped cookies, store-bought or homemade. Small paper Valentines with the latest cool characters printed on them that you dash to the store to pick up for your child to deliver to classmates. Is this the typical way your family marks Valentine's Day? Are you limited to just another to-do list of activities for yet another holiday?

Many reserve the day for roses and Godiva® chocolates (or the hopes of them!) — and the passing of Valentines among grade-schoolers. But Valentine's Day doesn't have to be limited to sweethearts and younger children. The beauty of Valentine's Day is that it can be celebrated by all members of the family, young and old, as a day to share love and affection. Whether it's a heartfelt note, a small gift, or an extra-big hug, everyone in your family can find new ways to say "I love you" to each other.

Children look to adults for lessons on love and compassion. As they model themselves after the adults around them — first parents, then teachers, camp counselors, neighbors, and other relatives — they begin to learn the behaviors, large and small, that convey appreciation and respect, components of affection and understanding.

By demonstrating how simple it is to share a piece of your heart with the ones you love, you create an opening for your child to demonstrate their innate sense of affection with those around them.

Much has been written about emotional intelligence and its importance to individual success in life. Academic learning is, of course, essential to functioning in the world. However, most acknowledge that the many types of intelligence in a single human being all have their place in learning and growing. Emotional intelligence essentially means the ability to get along with people.

Beyond the family and school, camp is a place where children learn compassion and teamwork. Through team activities, they become grounded in experiences of accomplishment within a group setting. On an individual basis, camp allows for, and even encourages, children to be themselves. That sense of confidence in being their authentic selves can free children to express themselves fully and be open and kind to their peers, as well as adults.

They also discover how it feels to do new things and be independent — and interdependent. Whether it's cooperating as buddies on a nature hike or learning a new song as a group around the campfire, children savor and share those memories of new activities learned with new friends. Later, they share these memories with you, as their parent, as well as perhaps other siblings and relatives. After they experience the event for themselves, they enjoy passing it along out of a sense of wanting to share their excitement of discovery.

In an independent study conducted by the American Camp Association, 96 percent of the parents surveyed said that camp had helped their child make new friends. The survey asked questions about children's inclinations to introduce themselves, and talk and play with new kids.

The study also measured levels of social comfort. Children often mentioned feeling more socially at ease at camp than they did at school. A ten-year-old girl said, "I would say that camp helped me be more outgoing."

Other skills the study measured included maintaining relationships; in other words, how well campers got along with their friends. One fourteen-year-old boy said that "you learn mostly how to interact with different kinds of people . . . and cooperate well with others." The caring, trained adults at camp are also role models for children in learning how to resolve conflicts and maintain harmony.

To say that camp is a learning experience is certainly true, but children enjoy camp not necessarily because it's a learning experience. Children enjoy camp because it's fun! It's in the fun activities and the chances to play and be themselves that children can learn to reach out more to their peers and to others. That certainly sounds like a step towards a more loving and compassionate world – which would make for a Valentine's experience every day of the year.

© 2008 American Camping Association, Inc.

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