An Educational Summer Camp for Teens set in Spencer, MA
Communication skills open the door to success in business, academia, and life, and they’re far too often overlooked in traditional education. Nearly half of all executives identify a lack of communication skills as the top deficiency in the American workforce. Effective communication is vital to not only landing the job you want, but also to being a good friend and ultimately a good citizen. If we want to prepare our kids for success we have to do more to build their communication skills.
At Dragon’s Haven we work to make every student capable and comfortable expressing their ideas, and listening to the ideas of others. Our Program Director has taught speech and debate for over a decade, and we pride ourselves on not only training assertive students to become more attentive and eloquent, but also on helping shy students come out of their shells and express themselves with confidence. Group discussions, storytelling, and impassioned advocacy for oneself and others are all part of the daily experience at Dragon’s Haven. By creating a safe, empowering and challenging environment we help to train the communicators of tomorrow.
As any teacher can tell you, our schools have gotten pretty good at training students to memorize facts and formulae for standardized tests, but they often lack the time and resources to truly teach them to think critically. This limitation is manifesting in a big way later in life. Recent data suggests that a lack of critical thinking skills is one of the primary barriers to employment for otherwise competent candidates. Critical thinking is essential for forming and refining our beliefs, it helps us see through scams and falsehoods, and helps us connect different ideas and resources to create a better world.
Dragon’s Haven is a world of puzzles and mysteries waiting to be unlocked and understood. Students may spend time trying to figure out what really happened when they’re confronted with different, conflicting reports. They’ll learn to detect bias in sources and assess expertise and validity. Navigating ancient ruins and arcane traps requires logical thinking and puzzle solving ability. Perhaps most importantly, decisions about justice in Dragon’s Haven often rest in the hands of the students. They are often asked to pass judgement on villagers or travelers accused of crime, and they must not only ferret out the truth, but decide what the moral response should be. Our world is designed to constantly challenge students to think critically about what they encounter, and helps them to carry those skills back to the real world when they leave.
It’s hard not to notice an empathy deficit in our society - especially in recent times. We sometimes have a tendency to lionize the ruthless and ignore the kind. Studies have repeatedly shown us that there is much we can do to help develop empathy and compassion - especially in children and young adults. Increased empathy not only makes us kinder people, but also helps develop our social skills, our ability to navigate relationships, and our capacity to appreciate diversity. We have an obligation to make the next generation not only smarter and more capable, but also more compassionate.
At Dragon’s Haven, empathy is the foundation upon which our camp is built. We create an inclusive community where kids can truly feel like they belong. We teach students to listen and to understand the experience of others that they encounter. Many of the people and creatures students encounter may look or act very differently from them; students are taught to look past those differences, hear the stories of others, and ultimately embrace our common humanity. Most social problems in our world could be solved if we had a stronger sense of empathy. Dragon’s Haven exists to foster empathy and make the world we live in a more compassionate place.
Educators are just now beginning to fully understand the power of integrating games into the educational process. Everything from TED presenters to academic journals, to public school teachers themselves are beginning to latch onto gaming as a means of both making education enjoyable, and also far more effective. Recent research clearly indicates that role-playing games specifically have significantly positive effects on communication skills, interpersonal development and a host of other social skills. Further research has shown us that they can also be an incredibly potent tool for delivering more traditional educational content. Our camp is designed as a massive, multiplayer immersive game, paired with physical activity and improv theater; actively working to teach kids the kinds of communication, cooperation and critical thinking skills that are essential for success in the 21st century.
An ongoing story in which the kids are actively participating provides a powerful incentive to learn and master new skills. Stories are one of our primary means of entertainment (movies, books, plays, etc) and we harness the power of a compelling story and use it to advance the educational concepts our camp promotes. The mysterious adventurer who has just arrived in town won’t help you on the next step of your quest until you learn to communicate persuasively. Ancient ruins can’t be explored until you find a pattern in the hieroglyphics, and find the secret entrance. The monster menacing the town can only be defeated if you coordinate with your companions and design a group strategy to keep it off balance. If students want the story to progress they’re going to need to learn the skills necessary to make that happen, and that creates an incredible hunger for knowledge.
Role-playing - acting out the part of someone different from yourself - can be an incredibly useful educational experience. Theater groups have recognized the benefits of this practice for centuries, and at our camp kids not only get to play a part, but they get to design the character too. Interacting with others as a character gives students the freedom to experiment with how they present themselves. It’s only a small step from playing a confident, heroic character to being a more confident, heroic person. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is also fundamental to the development of empathy - something our society could definitely use more of. Role-playing uniquely enables students to project self confidence and see the world from someone else’s perspective
While students create their own characters, they exist in a world with problems that are bigger than any one person can solve. The puzzles, challenges and quests that students must complete all require them to work with their fellow campers to be successful. Unlike other team-building activities, the activities our students engage in are part of a larger story. They’re not completing scavenger hunts just to “be the best cabin,” they’re developing strategies to fight monsters and save people in danger. We present an immersive world with characters and stories the students care about and by working together the students get to write the next chapter of the story.