In an age where the idea of ‘chilling out’ often involves a couch and some sort of screen, students from Bay Path University’s Occupational Therapy department showed teens and tweens new ways to build self-esteem and a variety of coping skills at their annual co-ed Camp Chillin’ Out. Through a combination of physical and physiological activities, campers learned about themselves and gained skills to interact with their peers … all under the disguise of having fun.
“Adolescence is a trying stage of life, and with anxiety as the number one mental health issue for teenagers, it is important that youth learn skills to manage their feelings and emotions,” stated Kimberly Henrichon, an assistant professor at Bay Path and the director of the camp. “Camp Chillin' Out teaches a variety of coping activities in a fun and safe environment. Campers are provided with information along with fun crafts and other tools to take with them to put to use long after summer has ended.”
While the campers are having fun, the camp counselors, all Bay Path Occupational Therapy graduate students, are ensuring that each child is developing physical, mental, and emotional coping activities they can use in their everyday lives. “Occupational therapists assess how persons conduct themselves in our day to day lives, including habits and routines,” Henrichon said. “Implementing regular habits that promote well-being can be one important piece of successfully managing a chronic mental health condition. Successfully doing so can make the difference for success in school, personal relationships, and productive life roles.”
Flexing their physical muscles, campers participated in fitness activities to learn how aerobic exercise affected their mental state, and took a nature walk in Laurel park to experience the calming effects of experiencing the natural world. They took boxing, dancing, and yoga classes, and participated in collaborative games like human foosball to work on socialization and connections with others.
Their mental muscles got a workout, too. Campers took a workshop and played games to learn time management strategies, created a sensory tool kit full of stress balls and meditative water bottles, and created vision boards to represent their future goals. Campers even worked together to escape from an Escape Room.
The campers also spent time feeding their creativity, crafting dream catchers, playing drums, and creating skits and commercials. They painted ‘kindness rocks’ with beautiful images and kind words, to be placed around the community for strangers to find. After a lesson in color theory, campers tie-dyed their camp shirts in colors representative of who they are when they are their best selves.
All of that fun seems to have worked. Parents reported that by the end of camp, their children felt calm, peaceful, and positive. "My child has an improved positive attitude," shared one parent, while others echoed sentiments of their children being better able to express themselves, verbalize coping skills, make new friends, and perhaps most importantly, be happier at home.