You Are What You Think: Growing Mindsets at Camp
It’s Brain Science!
Psychologists have now learned that the brain is more like a muscle — it changes and gets stronger when you use it. If we take a peek inside the outside layer of the brain — called the cortex — we find billions of tiny nerve cells, called neurons. These nerve cells have branches connecting them to other cells in a complicated network. Synaptic communication between these brain cells is what allows us to think and solve problems. When we learn new things, these tiny connections in the brain actually multiply and get stronger.
Summers have always belonged to children whose school vacations often carry the connotation of being unlikely places for learning. Yet, camps and the summers they occupy have served as landscapes for learning for many generations of campers. While schools have traditionally been charged with academically enhancing our capacity to live and work in an ever-changing society, camps are vital venues for growing the brain, most notably because, as Bill Gates has recognized, “research illuminates how our beliefs about our capabilities exert tremendous influence on how we learn and which paths we take in life” (2015).
In fact, scientists have been able to show just how the brain grows and gets stronger when you learn, and we now recognize that intelligence can be developed.
Carol Dweck (2006) is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of psychology. Her findings suggest that almost every moment of your and campers’ experience this summer can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. According to Dweck, people with a fixed mindset — those who believe that abilities are fixed — are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset — those who believe that abilities can be developed. In other words, the brain is malleable, and doing challenging activities is the best way to make the brain stronger and smarter (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007). At camp, every moment of every day of every summer contains challenges — big and small — for children and youth to develop new friendships, resolve conflict with others, and take responsibility for their camp community.