When making friends - or even making an introduction - doesn't come naturally, it's hard to want to make the effort. At Starfish, we train staff in the art of intentional friendship - a series of social practicalities and interaction experiences that help kids make and keep friends. Our goal isn't only to have campers connect with one another at camp, but help campers gain the skills that enable them to make friends at school and home. We often hear stories in the fall about campers connecting for sleepovers, birthdays, play dates, and more. Read what Vietta has to say about the connections she made at Starfish.
What we work on with campers
Over the course of the camp session, social skills improvements are generally seen in areas such as making eye contact during conversation, waiting ones turn in conversation, using appropriate manners, giving and being able to accept compliments, sharing the conversation with peers, starting conversation with peers (rather than just adults), modulating tone of voice, and giving others/asking for personal space from others. Often, because of the intensive focus on these items, campers make a school years' worth of progress on social-related IEP goals during their session at camp. For this reason, many school districts are able to include Camp Starfish in campers' IEPs as alternatives to summer school when academics are not the main focus of the IEP.
How we build social competence
We are intentional about making sure that social interaction and opportunities for social practice are part of each and every day. We don't have "social skills group" or an organized activity that "teaches" social skills. One of the benefits of camp is that the social activity is naturally in place, through participation in a shared-living community and involvement in activities. What we do is take advantage of all these opportunities and utilize them as teachable moments. Our staff point out the social cues that get missed, praise positive interactions, and call attention to the Key of the Day, which is a daily social skill that is being focused on. Staff also create bunk and activity group identities and themes which help campers feel connected to each other and fuel their desire to be part of the group. Counselors talk openly about being members of a team and how to make friends. Throughout the day, staff facilitate conversation between peers, help campers engage in conversation that may not be their preferred topic, and guide campers to see others' points of view. Practical application of these skills is literally everywhere at camp - from playing a board game and practicing taking turns or being a good sport, to roleplaying appropriate interactions during a mediated conversation after two campers have a disagreement. Perhaps most importantly, our staff role-model positive casual interactions with their peers, actively using the keys and modeling how to keep safe personal space and appropriately greet others (for example, high fives instead of running into people and hugging the breath out of them).