Children’s Camp. The very word often invokes a myriad of emotions from people. In North America the quintessential growing experience is our first experience at camp.
In a society devoid of culture and ritual, our first camp experience is often a rite of passage. It is usually the first time we spend any amount of time away from our parents. It marks a time from being in our parents constant care, to perceived independence.
Summer camp is often a time where we experience a myriad of emotions from loss, to anger, to love. The activities children participate in at camp, will often help guide them for the rest of their lives.
As children venture into the strange world of camp, being separated from their families, and put into cramped, rustic cabins, they learn important life lessons. They often learn about friendship, camaraderie, and nature. They will meet some wonderful friends, and find some of their fellow campers incredibly annoying. They will have the opportunity to learn new outdoor skills such as archery and canoeing.
Camp is an alien world. No pets, no mum or dad, mobile phones, computers, video games, or social networking. Each and every moment is choreographed by staff members. There is little to no free unstructured free time.
The experience at camp is foreign in another way that few children can comprehend. It’s completely hands-on. There are no virtual experiences at camp. Every activity done at a camp is real. The emotions, activities, arts, and crafts – all real.
The moment campers arrive at camp, they spend their days being active. Many children today spend most of their time sitting at desks in school, and playing video games when not at school. Physical activity has sadly become almost foreign to many children. At camp, children have a wonderful opportunity to move. They have the opportunity to swim, run, jump, hike, and even climb. Camp is about activity and action.
Experiences at camp help children build important life skills such as self-confidence and self-esteem. At camp, there is little academic, athletic and social competition. Competitions at camp are friendly and fun. Most competitions will have camp counsellors directly involved in the activity. This is a real boost for young people as they will have the feeling that counsellors care about them and their activities. When counsellors participate in the activities that campers are involved in, it makes children feel that the counsellors are not some ivory tower supervisor, but a real person, involved in their lives and activities. There is a real sense of accomplishment every day, in a way that video games and academics cannot provide.
Separation from family, friends, and familiarity at camp is balanced by counsellors and support staff who are trained and educated in nurturing and encouraging campers. All camp staff love their jobs. They want to build resilient, happy, and healthy campers. Camp staff want to make campers resilient and whole children who are ready for anything. They want children to explore their world, understand themselves, and overcome obstacles. This kind of active participation in children’s lives will often permeate into their soul and be with them for the rest of their lives. Camp conquers fears.
Spending time at a camp helps campers develop life-long skills. With varying activities, arts, crafts, and of course adventure skills such as low ropes, high ropes, and canoeing, camp builds skills and confidence. The camper who is good at archery today, may end up being the next gold medal Olympiad. Every camp activity will expand a child’s abilities.
Many times when a camper is dropped off at camp, they are upset, crying, and very scared. Some children will experience homesickness which will be cause for alarm for both the camp counsellor as well as the parent. The experience at camp will often help children grow more independent. Camp will allow children to spend their days in nature, learning new skills, and use their artistic side to create crafts, and art which they can often take home. Campers will have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves without having parents or teachers constantly questioning their every move. Children attending camp for the first time will quickly realise how much freedom they have at camp, that they cannot experience anywhere else. Campers gain freedom to blossom and enjoy life, and take new directions in thought they did not know were possible.
It is very common for a camper to be just as emotional leaving camp, as they were arriving for the exact opposite reasons! Instead of crying and being upset at leaving home, they are crying and upset because they are leaving camp.
Scientists are rediscovering what humanity has taught us over millennia. Children need time outdoors to engage in fantasies. These fantasies help children connect with each other, and their world in a way that is almost incomprehensible to adults. This form of play is very common in a camp environment. During “free time” at camp, campers and counsellors will often engage in fantasy play. Fighting dragons, zombies, and defending fortresses as imaginary armies, Kings, and Queens is an important part to developing the creative mind. Camp is ultimately about play.
In our world of hyper-connectivity, and “plug-in, tune-out”, many children are found to be lacking basic social skills. Many children can operate a computer better than they can operate in a social setting. Camps are social environments designed to build leadership and teamwok. Campers, counsellors, and staff members are with each other from the time they arrive, until the time they depart. Although this is often a scary prospect for children, it is truly how humanity developed. Being with each other at all times helps strengthen the social bonds, and help create much needed social skills. Living in a cabin with up to a dozen other campers, children learn to share chores, resolve issues, and learn the importance of communication and socialisation in a real-world environment.
One of the most basic things that all camps do, is get children outside. No matter what type of camp that children attend (religious, equine, art, computer, science, etc.) they will be outside. In our plugged-in world, children often spend more than 80% of their time inside buildings. This had led to the creation of many movements such as the Nature Deficit Disorder movement, and the Vitamin N (for nature) movement. These movements and concepts are backed by modern science who agree that shoe-wearing, clean, technologically connected, and sheltered children have greater immune system deficiencies, greater incidences of social anxiety, and less chance of success than their predecessors of generations past.
One of the many benefits of attending camp is the opportunity to make real-life, face-to-face friends. Although children may have dozens if not hundreds of “virtual” friends which they have never met, each and every friend at camp is real. Friendships forged during the trials of the high ropes, tipped canoes, hilarious accidents, and late-night ghost stories can often last a lifetime. These friendships are deep, meaningful, and are created by having experiences together. Although social networking sites are great for keeping in touch with long-lost friends and family, they cannot forge deep psychological bonds like having adventures together.
Although children many not remember their camp counsellor’s name, their face, or the people they met at camp, they will remember the crazy moments, games and events that helped change and impact their lives forever.
For example, when I was only 5 years old (sometime in the 1980s) I attended a camp at a place called Burgoyne Woods in St. Catharines, Ontario Canada. I remember feeling very enamoured by my counsellor Barbara Lambert. I used to think about her, even dream about her. Many years later I worked at the same facility she did, and encouraged campers much the same ways she did. I even saw her initials written on the wall of the building we both worked at. She would be well over 50 years old today, but I have carried her influence with me for decades.
The importance of the camp experience has been shown to be so necessary for a child’s development that various agencies such as the YMCA, Family and Children Services, as well as various Christian organisations will often pay for underprivileged youth to attend camp for a week or two during the summer.
Camp changes lives. Camp helps children grow and become resilient. Camp builds life long friendships and memories which will be there forever. Make sure your children get to camp.