There are two important elements of our educational philosophy that help us achieve out program outcomes at camp. These are “sneaky learning” and the “Maslow metaphor” for creating effective learning environments.
The Value of Sneaky Learning
Our programs are designed to address what we perceive to be learning gaps that are not well-covered in traditional academic education. One reason that learning gaps exist is that some skills (creativity, for example) are notoriously difficult to teach and measure. One of the best ways we know to help children build these kinds of skills is to practice them while teaching something else. We call this “sneaky learning”.
Our three overall program outcomes are fun, learning objectives, and building life skills. This provides us with the opportunity to utilize two levels of sneaky learning at Game Theory Camp. The first is that we use fun and games to teach Learning Objectives such as how to calculate expected value or the skill of pattern recognition.
The second level of sneaky learning is that we use fun and Learning Objectives as an excuse to create an environment where campers can practice critical Life Skills. Schools tend not to be very effective at teaching communication, creativity, or the other “C’s” in a traditional classroom setting. This is because communication often goes in one direction (teacher to student) and there is a very limited set of correct answers. These are skills that students must actively practice, not just hear about. So we create an environment where they get lots and lots of practice.
Creating An Effective Learning Environment
Our purpose at camp is to create an environment where campers can experience Growth, Learning, and Fun (GLF). Our program outcomes map directly to this purpose. In creating an effective learning environment, we use a guiding principle that we call the “Maslow metaphor”.
Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who put forward a theory known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There has been much discussion about details of Maslow’s Hierarchy, but the general observation seems to us to be self-evident: most people will put physical needs before social needs, and social needs before “self-actualization” needs. (We interpret self-actualization as Growth, Learning, and Fun.)
Any childcare institution must create an environment of physical comfort–that needs no further explanation. But we are adamant that social needs (belonging, friendship, esteem) be treated the same way. Every child must have a place in the community at camp, whether or not he or she has developed the skills to create it autonomously.
The bottom line is that campers won’t learn effectively if their social needs aren’t met. We see this reality play out in public schools across the country. Students put tremendous energy into understanding and moving within the social hierarchy of the school, to the detriment of the attention that they put toward actual classwork.
We train our counselors to recognize that if we are to accomplish GLF, we must first create an environment where meeting physical and social needs is a given. Meeting social needs for all campers is a bit more complicated that meeting physical needs, but it is well worth the effort. We go to great lengths to establish a community in which all campers have a place. This allows us to turn the rest of our attention directly toward achieving our program outcomes: Growth, Learning, and Fun.