Camp and Group Development; the Theory of Summer Camp

Letter’s home.  Reading the fine print. What’s the science behind group development?

As we enter the thrid week of camp letters have been going back and forth between family members, friends and campers. (Remember letters? They require paper and stamps)  As a parent reading the letter it can be challenging to  put the comments in perspective. What is happening at camp? How is my daughter doing in her cabin group? What is she learning? Does she miss me?

At Runoia, camp is about community and working to find Harmony in that community. There are many community groups to be a part of at camp: Shack or cabin group  which is the most significant; table group at meals; swim class; group for overnight trips; organically formed group of friends and even in each activity class. How is it that these communities are formed? And how might that be reflected in letters home?

The staff at Runoia work hard to facilitate these shack groups and it is during this second week of camp that the community really starts to take shape and the letters home are likely to reflect this growth. The staff work to be attentive to the individual campers and helping them achieve goals. Staff are trained to intervene if necessary and resolve any conflict. Campers at this point have a good sense of their role among the group, which allows for this community to settle.

Did you know there is science behind this growth?

Meet Bruce Tuckman who Identified the Stages of Developmental Sequence in Small Groups. Tuckman originally said there are 3 stages of development:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming

He later added a 4th: Performing And then a 5th: Adjourning (or Mourning)

Forming: In this stage, most group members are positive and polite. Some are anxious, as they aren’t sure what the camp experience will become. Others are simply excited about the choices they will make, the independence they have and the activities they will take.

Parents might be getting letters that tell of the new activities the girls are doing. Letters might report on specific bunkmates or cabin mates with both favorable and unfavorable reports. This is normal. If as a parent, you receive information that has you concerned about your daughters experience, contact a director. Often campers write of isolated feelings or incidents, which soon transform into the Norming Stage.

Storming: Next, the group moves into the storming phase, where campers start to push against the boundaries established in the forming stage. Storming often starts where there is a conflict between campers, and they may become frustrated. It is in this stage that campers are defining their roles and working to settle in.

Letters might be shorter and have seemingly disjointed context. Commonly you read of comments about other campers and less so about personal growth. i.e I like playing Gaga with Lizzie followed by I dont like swimming, the water is cold. These are normal observations and feelings your daughter has as she finds her way in the community.

Norming: Gradually, the group moves into the norming stage. This is when community members start to resolve their differences, appreciate each other’s strengths.

Now that campers know one another better, they may socialize together, and they are able to ask one another for help

There is often a prolonged overlap between storming and norming, because, as new tasks come up, the team may lapse back into behavior from the storming stage.

Letters home might have some varying reports based upon where the camper is in the process. These letters report more about friendships, more about the activities and routines at camp because camp has become a place of now understood routines, i.eyesterday I went on the zip line with Amanda and during rest hour I went tubing with Kia

Performing: The team reaches the performing stage, when the girls can work together and they really feel the harmony of living together.

It feels easy to be part of the team at this stage. Their morning chores are a routine, and they help each other.

Just as the camp day has a routine to it, letters are likely to flow and have more of a narrative to them.

Adjourning: Many groups will reach this stage eventually, however, leaders can’t control the pace at which the group develops. Shack groups may never get to this point because they are at camp for a fixed, fairly short, time limit.

Having made a new routine at camp, many campers find it challenging to transition OUT of camp. This is particularly hard if they are transitioning TO something new: Some campers’ families are moving while they are at camp such as:  parents going through divorce; a pet dies; a new puppy joins the family; or an older sibling goes off to college.

Allow time for this transition. Ask about camp and its traditions and its routines. Try to find similarity in the two settings: camp and home because camp has been home for a few weeks.

In your letters to campers, send information about your routines and compare it to camp. Are you doing morning chores?  Are you making decisions? Having interactions with friends? Learning new skills? Share some challenges?

During this week two of camp, you can expect the girls to be transitioning from Storming into the Performing stage of development.

Camp life offers so many chances for growth. As a parent recognize the stages that every group goes through and realize this is part of your daughter’s experience as part of the camp community. Their growth leads to the Harmony of Runoia.

We abhor the “mourning” phase… it’s coming right up as we wrap up our 1st session this week.

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