Y Riders Cycling Camp. (Photo: YMCA of Northern Colorado).

Living with the threat of COVID has been stressful for everyone – including our kids. Which is why the YMCA of Northern Colorado is taking a proactive approach to Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) at their camps this summer. According to Julia Capnerhurst, the executive director of school age programs and day camp for the YMCA of Northern Colorado, “Children need social-emotional skills more than ever, especially because of the pandemic and social isolation of this past year.”

Capnerhurst says the pandemic has exacerbated recent spikes in youth depression, anxiety and suicide. “As the area’s largest childcare provider, we have increasingly realized that we must help our children understand and process their emotions in positive ways.”

SEL is a framework for developing the skills necessary to manage emotions, meet goals and develop empathy for others. To this end, Capnerhurst says the YMCA of Northern Colorado’s summer programming “will focus on helping kids learn how to make connections, build relationships, and enhance their time at camp with positive social experiences.”

Campers, who range in age from entering kindergarten to rising ninth-graders, will have a variety of opportunities to engage develop their SEL skills at camp. That might look like participating in sharing circles, practicing positive self-talk or learning critical problem-solving skills, says Capnerhurst. “We’ll introduce coping skills to manage frustration, sadness, and stress,” she explains. “Each camp will have a cool-down area where kids can take some time to relax, try mindfulness techniques and talk with professionally trained SEL staff, if they want.”

As a prominent part of camp programming, SEL will be integrated into campers’ daily experiences. For example, each week, one of their day camps features a different theme. Capnerhurst says during “A Wild Life on Earth” week, SEL core competencies of compassion and appreciation will be ingrained in the curriculum. “We will learn how animals and humans are all connected, and how we can help balance or disrupt different ecosystems based on our actions,” she explains.

Meanwhile, Capnerhurst says that in addition to being part of the curriculum, SEL will be baked into every interaction between campers and staff members. This encompasses everything from the language they use to the way they approach behavioral issues. “We want social emotional learning to be a part of our camp culture – not just something on our daily schedule.”

While implementing SEL hasn’t required the YMCA of Northern Colorado to hire additional staff, it has required a hefty investment in training. Capnerhurst says everyone on their school-age program staff began taking courses over a year ago. Additionally, every camp staff member, including new and seasonal employees, will engage in a week-long training that focuses on SEL prior to the camp season.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” says Capnerhurst. “At the Y, we recognize our responsibility to be there when families need us most. After a long, challenging year we look forward to supporting every child’s wellbeing this summer at the YMCA.

By Pam Moore, Raised in the Rockies