Written by Jo Meighan

An adventure camp may draw you in with images of epic sunsets and exhilarating video of adventure sports, but for those of us who have lived through it and for those of us who keep coming back for more, the appeal goes far deeper than the eye-catching images.

Much of the appeal and consequent success of an adventure camp is borne out of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and undergoing “the odd hardship.” There is a good chance that at some point you will feel uncomfortable – be it physically, emotionally or socially. How you react to and overcome that discomfort is where you begin developing grit.

There is a movement to encourage character development as a marker for success in life, to the point that some schools are grading their students based on “grit” and not just academic performance. Angela Duckworth, MacArthur Foundation Genius Award winner and research psychologist developed a “grit-scale,” requiring students to rate themselves based on questions such as “I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge,” “Setbacks don’t discourage me” and “I finish whatever I begin” (take the 12-item grit questionnaire to see how you fare).

One of the benefits of summer camp is that it creates a culture where students can challenge themselves and feel accomplished after overcoming obstacles. The experience results in uniquely close bonds between the students who experience this as a group.

Heather Halstead, Executive Director and Co-founder of Reach the World Foundation, which brings real-world course material to low-income schools, says of her years with the adventure program, ActionQuest, “I gained confidence and interpersonal skills while seeing the world from the deck of a boat. I thank ActionQuest for the courage and willingness to bring character-building exercises like goal setting and integrity development to teenagers.”

However you define grit, it is something that can be difficult to teach in a classroom. For some it is inherent, and for many it is the odd hardship and life’s extraordinary experiences that can be the catalyst for its development.