Camp Fire Transforms Youth Into Powerful Peacemakers

Camp Fire Orca in Tacoma, Washington.

Can you feel it? In the past several years, our culture seems to have hit new highs…or lows…when it comes to division, hostility, and opposition.

While we see constant conflict take its toll globally, we also know how interpersonal problems can do serious damage in our kids’ and teens’ lives. From bullying to academic trouble to depression, conflict on a micro-scale quickly causes big problems.

That’s why Camp Fire has been working on a comprehensive Conflict Resolution curriculum, launching nationwide in early 2018. It began in partnership with the University of Kansas School of Social Work in 2011. Working with 11 underserved schools in the Kansas City district, Camp Fire Heartland collaborated with educators, counselors, kids, and parents to develop super-useable conflict resolution tools. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

The curriculum helps kids build their peacemaking skills on individual, interpersonal and community levels. The program is tailored for three age groups (K-1st grade, 2nd-3rd grade and 4th-6th grade). The curriculum is split into a series of 45 to 60-minute modules (on topics like communication styles, negotiation and respect) that work in both camp and classroom settings.

Kayla Neal teaches Conflict Resolution to kids at summer camp in Kansas City, MO (July 2017).

Kayla Neal, Assistant Program Manager at Camp Fire Heartland, taught all three age categories Conflict Resolution at day camp this summer and is now teaching the program in the Kansas City school district.

“The program gives them a clear outlet to talk about their feelings,” Kayla says. “It helps them ask, ‘What is making me feel that emotion?’ It gives them a way to think differently and think collectively as a group.”

Kayla says most kids can tell you if they are mad, happy or sad. But learning to differentiate between more complex emotions—frustration, anxiety, disappointment—can help them manage and communicate their feelings better.

Youth at Camp Fire Orca in Washington State play tug-of-war.

“Being able to identify the emotion—it starts there,” Kayla says. “Then they can figure out what’s really going on.”

For example, Kayla says, if a youth can differentiate between being mad and being anxious, they can also identify the cause of that anxiety, and what they can do about it. “If I’m feeling a little anxiety about a test, then I can ask myself what I can do to help with that anxiety: study, get some rest.”

The program helps kids manage their feelings and also communicate their emotions to others more effectively. That emotional intelligence can help mitigate childhood conflicts, especially intense ones like bullying.

As part of Camp Fire’s Thrive{ology} approach, the conflict resolution curriculum has already had an impact. When we measure kids’ belief in their ability to talk to someone they were “mad at” before taking part in Camp Fire’s programming, they rate their confidence much lower than other life skills. But early studies show that kids are self-reporting big leaps in their conflict-resolution confidence after a spring and summer of Camp Fire fun.

According to Camp Fire National Headquarter’s Program Consultant Nikki Roe Cropp, out of all the ‘Thriving Indicators’ we measure in youth, the skills they learn in Conflict Resolution has shown the greatest growth. This research makes it all the more exciting to be able to launch our tested Conflict Resolution curricula to the other 55 Camp Fire councils in the New Year.

Conflict resolution skills are endangered and transformative. Thanks for your support as we equip more youth to be proactive and learn to handle conflict in a healthy way! It’s a beautiful thing, and everyone wins.

Photo from Camp Fire Seattle, taken by Jenny Gawf

Find your local council and see if they will have this program available, or ask what other awesome programs they have going on!

Sparks help kids thrive!

If you’ve been around Camp Fire for half a minute, you’ve heard about sparks. And you know we’re not just talking about fire-building skills. We’re talking about life-building passions that put kids on the path to truly thriving.
Sparks are talents, interests, commitments and qualities that give kids—and adults—energy and purpose.

Simply put, sparks are things you both love do to and want to do.

Sparks play a big role in the positive youth development movement. In the past decade, researchers with the Thrive Foundation for Youth, Search Institute and others have studied how kids discover, nurture and grow their sparks.

Kids at Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma
Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma

Let’s get a little technical. Sparks guru Dr. Peter L. Benson and Peter C. Scales write in the Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011) that sparks can:
So what do American kids say their sparks are? The Search Institute has catalogued 200+ sparks reported by thousands of American teens. The most common categories of sparks are the arts (54 percent of kids name a creative spark), learning, reading, athletics and volunteering.

  • Be an inner passion, interest or talent that is central to a person’s identity.
  • Originate from inside a person, rather than being imposed from the outside.
  • Be a source of intrinsic motivation, meaning and self-directed action that can help drive young people forth in other areas.

But the full list is long, varied and always expanding. From telling jokes to creating business plans to peacemaking to studying sacred books…anything can be a spark. If it gives a kid big-time joy and drives them forward in life, it’s a spark.

Although 100 percent of teenagers want to have a life-changing spark (or two!), only 62 percent have identified that purposeful passion.

Camp Fire exists to help kids find their sparks—and help adults become Spark Champions for the kids we serve. It’s the very first step in our Thrive{ology} framework, developed with our fellow spark-advocates, the Thrive Foundation for Youth.

Do you know a kid who needs to find a spark? A kid whose spark needs a little fuel to grow? A kid who needs a few more Spark Champions in her life? Camp Fire has programs to help kids discover and develop their sparks all year long. Find one by you! #FindYourSpark