A Learning Event: Beyond Fun and Games, Special Events Are Crucial in Building Children's Self-Esteem and Confidence

By Fabela, Danielle | Parks & Recreation, February 2008 | Go to article overview

A Learning Event: Beyond Fun and Games, Special Events Are Crucial in Building Children's Self-Esteem and Confidence


Fabela, Danielle, Parks & Recreation


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Imagine this scenario: The host of an event calls out to the crowd, "Send the camper with the best smile." In response, each group leader selects a camper with the biggest and brightest smile from his or her team, sending that person up to the front, where he can indulge in showing off his pearly whites--or perhaps in giving an impromptu performance of some special ability.

Once a representative from each group is sent forward, the event host judges the collection of shining chompers, and the camper with the biggest smile gets a point for his team. At the end of the event, the group with the most points is the winner.

On one level, this exercise calls attention to personal qualities, special skills, and gifts, rewarding campers' unique characteristics. Simultaneously, it reveals that almost everyone has something special to offer to others.

Driving New Experiences

This type of activity can also be educational. Imagine what is gained by encouraging children to write a story based on how their special traits or skills could make a difference in their school performance or adult life. Or consider asking them to identify how people's unique skills or qualities could be a great source of pride, then discuss what they learned from the exercise.

Special event programming can translate into new experiences for participants while also showcasing an agency or department's social values. In fact, it could be argued that special events, such as the example offered above, should be an integral part of nearly every educational and recreational program package.

Many of today's professionals would likely agree that special events are beneficial to children and their overall development. Through well-designed special events, a child's confidence, self-esteem, and social skills can increase tremendously.

Stephanie Lorenzo, assistant day camp director of the Camp Kaleidoscope summer program in San Bruno, Calif., says, "Special events at our day camps help the campers with their social skills and offer our day camp program the opportunity for relaxation, a change of pace, and a time to pursue creative interests. Staff and campers have the opportunity to develop meaningful and supportive social relationships with people outside their day-today camp group."

Indeed, while involvement in special events is enjoyable for all, its unique positive influence on physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development is often underestimated.

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Many children and teenagers "find themselves" after engaging in a special event, gravitating beyond withdrawn, sullen, or disruptive behaviors. In some cases, "transformation" is not too strong a word.

Some campers reveal a new side and a willingness to try new things. An unmotivated child is inspired to stretch his capacities. A disruptive, somewhat aggressive 7-year-old camper shows great potential for compatibility and agile teamwork. Much can unfold that is startling, exciting, and inspiring for professionals serving youth through engaging in special events.

Paul Renzi, former program director and administrator for Camp Mendocino, operated by the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, states, "Special events bestow the thrills of team competition in refreshing new ways that contrast with traditional sports. The programs are exciting and the campers look forward to them. It's important to set aside some extra time with our youth groups and in building camaraderie in our recreation settings."

Patrick Celentano, who works with Lorenzo as an assistant director at San Bruno's Camp Kaleidoscope, says, "Not only do special events bring the entire camp together for fun and enjoyment, it really is a form of shared leadership with other recreation leaders. The leaders have the opportunity to share ideas in a process of planning and carrying out group activities and events themselves, stressing cooperation rather than competition with the entire camp community. …

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