Get Inspired: 9 TED Talks That Anyone Working in Summer Camp Should Watch

Looking for some inspiration to share with your counselors? Need a pick-me-up to get you motivated?

Well, you’ll find it in at least one of these TED Talks that speak to the soul of camp professionals. (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but they’re soooo good!)

Kick up your feet for a few minutes, take a break from your busy schedule, and immerse yourself in one of these talks. In these TED Talks, earn about the importance of play, the restorative power of nature, or how mindfulness can help your campers calm their minds and overcome anxiety. You’ll laugh, you might cry, and you’re guaranteed to get inspired.

1. “Good Kids, Bad Kids, Weird Kids”

Jonathan Owen, Camp Director of Camp Straight Street in Alabama (woot!), describes a moment from his counselor days that completely changed his outlook. If you’re a camp counselor, chances are you know exactly what Owen is talking about. But throughout his touching story, the 20-year camp pro highlights just how important it is to learn every camper’s story and remember that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

2. “Unplugging Our Kids”

Steve Baskin – Executive Director of Camp Champions in Marble Falls, TX – has long spent his summers at camp, first as an asthmatic kiddo in Texas and then as a counselor. So, according to Baskin, what makes camp so great? Baskin says the fact that kids have a chance to unplug makes camp so valuable for young people. And when campers are free to live without technology, they can learn some of life’s most important skills – communication, collaboration, and creativity. Definitely one of the TED Talks worth watching!

3. “Get Hooked On Nature”

Summer camp not only provides kids a chance to unplug, it’s the perfect environment for helping them get outside to enjoy the healing powers of the Great Outdoors. Ben Klasky, the Chief Executive of outdoor learning center Island Wood, highlights just how important time spent in nature is for kids, and how nights under the stars can help us discover, grow, and gain independence.

4. “The Power of Empathy”

A number of camps have integrated empathy training and activities into their programming. And it’s clear why: Empathy can foster deeper connections between people, it can help young people better communicate and learn to solve problems. But as Anita Nowak highlights in this talk, empathy is only powerful when it leads to action. If you’re planning social and emotional learning programs for your camp, this is one of those must-watch TED Talks.

5. “Tales of Creativity and Play”

How important is playtime for kids (and us adults)? Well, as designer Tim Brown highlights in this talk, it’s absolutely critical for helping us reach full creative potential. Brown offers insights into the connections between creative thinking and play and provides interesting exercises that would be great for summer camp training. Plus, Brown’s discussion of “constructive play” might also help you better tune your camp’s playful programming to incorporate learning.

6. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

Angela Lee Duckworth’s classic TED Talk touches on a skill that every camp should be teaching – grit. Grit is one’s ability to focus on long-term goals, even in the face of adversity. And compelling research shows grit is tantamount to success in life. Duckworth’s discussion will give you a basic understanding of grit, which might just help spark inspiration for incorporating perseverance training into your camp activities and programming.

7. “Everyday Leadership”

Professor Drew Dudley’s talk on leadership is an absolute must-share during camp counselor training. It’s humorous and inspiring, and he asks that we reframe our thoughts on what a “leader” really is. Instead of thinking of leadership as a skill that we either have or don’t, Dudley makes the case for thinking of leadership as working hard to improve the lives of people around us. And that’s something we can all do.

8. “Build a Tower, Build a Team”

Have you heard of the marshmallow problem? It’s a fun team-building design challenge that asks participants to make the tallest tower – BUT they can only use some dry spaghetti, a bit of tape and a marshmallow. (In other words, it’s a great summer camp exercise!) In this talk, designer Tom Wujec highlights some fascinating research on the subject, while weaving in what makes good teams, the power of inquiry, and how you can encourage kids to be better problem solvers.

9. “Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness”

AnneMarie Rossi, Director of non-profit Be Mindful, talks about the power of mindfulness. Specifically, how it can help us unwind, manage our emotions, and calm down. In fact, Rossi discusses research she’s collected using mindfulness with students in the Denver area. Fourth-graders who went through mindfulness training scored 250 percent higher on emotional regulation and 600 percent higher on pro-social behavior. For today’s campers, the stress of constant connectivity is overwhelming – by embracing mindfulness, summer camps can help teach a skill that can have a lifelong impact.

Summer Camp Inspiration Is All Around Us…

TED Talks are such wonderful tools for sparking our creativity, helping us think about problems differently, and getting motivated. And there are so many more that dive into topics that camp directors will find fascinating.

Of course, we only highlighted a few. You’ll find insightful talks on numerous camp-related topics – from youth development to hiring and managing millennials, to inspiring young people. If you do, share them with us!