How Our Summer Camp Helps Youth Develop Values of Safety, Community, and Care
by Sarah Spurrell
Climbing is a unique sport. Learning to climb provides youth with the opportunity for growth in a fun, social environment. It gets kids physically active and encourages participation in outdoor adventure. Climbing is an “individual” sport that still requires teamwork! It fosters strong communication skills and challenges each person in a different way which can help teach kids to respect personal differences.
The indoor climbing industry has exploded in recent years meaning that more and more kids across Canada, North America, and the world are getting the chance to be a part of this amazing sport. But climbing has always been more than a sport to those most passionate about it. Climbing has core values and ethics that are as important for beginners to learn as how to fit and use a climbing shoe!
This year our summer camp featured both indoor and outdoor climbing experiences. We ran seven weeks of full-day camp with various themes across three different age groups, with all weeks sharing a few foundational curriculum outcomes. Our staff have spent the summer finding creative, engaging ways to teach youth ages 6-18 about safety considerations and practices, to appreciate and care for the natural environment and shared spaces, to trust in others and their own decision-making skills, and the importance of being a part of and representing a community.
Safety Considerations and Practices
Our summer camp athletes have learned everything from “no running in the climbing gym” to complex skills like how to back up a rappel system, inspect a top-rope anchor, and belay another climber! Our “Rock On” weeks have featured guest presentations from our newest staff member, Tara, a former first-aid instructor, where kids aged 9 and up have learned how to pack a basic first aid kit and tie a triangle bandage. The most important safety practices we teach at camp are clear, consistent communication and self and buddy checks! Safe climbing means understanding that even smart people can make mistakes and always looking out for each other.
Appreciate and Care for the Shared Spaces and the Natural Environment
Our summer camp kids share the gym with one another, other programs, and our members! The outdoor climbing areas we visit are important spaces within the climbing community but can also be near/ accessed via popular hiking trails, residential areas, and even private property. Understanding and implementing the “Leave no Trace” principle at Wallnuts applies to everything from tidying the snack area to staying on trail when we are hiking as a group. For many youth climbers, climbing is their first exposure to structured outdoor recreation and these lessons are ones kids can carry with them far beyond their time at camp! Outdoor climbing really helps people develop a personal relationship with the beautiful land we live on. This kind of personal relationship with the land is a strong foundation on which to build a passion for environmental conservation.
Trust in Others and in Your Own Decision Making Skills
Climbing teaches participants to trust safety equipment and to trust the coaches and peers who spot, hold ropes, and build anchors for them! Perhaps more importantly, it provides an opportunity for kids to feel fear and then choose how to deal with it. Sometimes fear, like the fear of being eaten by a bear when you’re camping in the forest, is rational and helpful: it reminds us to store our food in a bear-proof container. But sometimes fear, like the fear of a monster under the bed or the fear of not succeeding, is irrational and more importantly unhelpful: it keeps us from doing the things that we want to do. Learning to decide whether fear indicates danger or not and then trusting that decision enough to do things that might feel “scary” but that you want to do anyway is an impressive and powerful ability that as a climbing coach I get the privilege of watching kids practice on a daily basis. Our coaching staff has an arsenal of tips and tricks for empowering youth athletes when it comes to facing fear!
Representing and Being Part of a Community
Community is and has always been essential to the sport of climbing. Climbers in Newfoundland and around the globe take pride in being friendly and welcoming. Community supports each other through the good times and also through the years when it snows in June. At our gym and in our youth programs we believe that climbing is for everyone, and we impress upon our youth program participants the importance of making sure their peers feel respected and valued.
We also teach the kids that being part of the climbing community means representing it! Whether you’re representing our summer camp in the gym or representing the sport of climbing to anyone who sees us when we climb outdoors, being part of the climbing community is an important responsibility and considering how our actions affect those around us is vital to the continued health and growth of this amazing sport.
Sarah has been climbing at Wallnuts since 2010 and first coached at Summer Camp in 2013. This has been her 2nd year running the Junior Program and is her 2nd year running camp. Sarah is studying English and Geography at Memorial and is passionate about education and the environment.