These days, kids are spending more and more time interacting on digital devices rather than in person. When they want to have a conversation, it is a quick text away rather than a phone call. Emotions are displayed with emojis, not with smiles. Kids need to be in social settings to develop skills that will help them in college and beyond. Believe it or not, riding a school bus twice a day with the same group of kids can be incredibly beneficial to developing friendships and breaking down social barriers. On a bus, kids are automatically in smaller groups, and have the opportunity to develop real relationships with people they may not otherwise talk to. I had the pleasure of recently attending a keynote speech by Bob Ditter, an adolescent and family therapist from Boston, MA. In his talk, he spoke about the importance of utilizing small groups in order to develop the social relationships of young kids. In his words, when kids interact in small groups, they relax and the social barriers are broken down. They become comfortable quickly, and start to develop connections that last when the group size increases. In other words, kids that develop relationships in small groups are more successful in larger groups where the social dynamic can be trickier to navigate. They are less likely to feel ostracized and left out, even when their interests may not align with the majority of the group.
So how does this relate to summer camp? On the first day of camp, a camper is immediately placed in a group, often times with complete strangers. He of she is then told “these are your new best friends, see you in a couple weeks!” This is extremely overwhelming, but imagine if that same child had ridden the bus to camp that morning, and was sitting next to somebody that was equally as nervous about starting camp. Prior to arriving at camp, both children are connected by a common feeling and situation. Even if those two children don’t say a word to each other all bus ride, all of a sudden a familiar face is added to the sea of strangers upon arrival. Both campers are immediately more relaxed and comfortable in what can be an intimidating environment. Now imagine at the end of a great camp day. Both campers are back on the bus, in their small group environment. They are much more likely to open up, share stories, and make friendships. As an added bonus, these new found friends are part of a small “bus crew” if you will, and are able to form their own social dynamic within the camp environment.
Fair warning, campers may come home singing this: