The world of summer camps is often misunderstood; not by those who attended camp in their youth or who provide their own children with the experience, but by those who have never before been a part of something so wonderfully impactful.
To some, summer camp is simply an opportunity for children to disconnect from their hyper-technological world, to explore the great outdoors, to meet new people, make new friends, and create lifelong memories. But while the summer camp experience certainly does provide these things, it’s true value is much deeper and far more expansive. That’s because these things are not an end to themselves but rather a means to developing and discovering so much more.
Removing the onslaught of screens from children’s lives, even if only for a few weeks, helps spark their inner-creativeness. Instead of relying on instant, electronic entertainment, they must seek out and produce actual, tangible, real-life stimulation through the world and the people around them.
This, coupled with the freedom to explore the wonders of the outside world, cultivates a rarely enjoyed sense of discovery and a developing appreciation of one’s environment. It’s not simply an opportu-nity to skip rocks across a lake, or climb a tree, or play in the mud. This exploration, this immersion into the natural world, allows campers to sense the warmth of a summer sun upon their back, to squeeze the cool, dry earth between their toes, to feel the crisp, refreshing chill of lake water washing over them, and to witness the brilliant display of living artistry as the lush greens of trees, speckled with the bright pastels of innumerable wildflowers, gracefully mingle beneath an expansive canvas of pure blue. Essentially, it’s a chance to recognize, relate to, and respect the world in which we live.
Even the social nature of camp, which creates a comfortable, safe, and supervised environment, is a means to an end greater than itself. Within this structure, children are free to be themselves without conform-ing to the normal confines, parameters, and qualifications of their everyday lives back home. They are accepted simply by being present. This sense of belonging al-lows them to branch out of their comfort zones, to try new things, to engage and interact with people they’ve never met, to seek out new friendships, and to accept others even as they themselves are finding acceptance. When the pressure of fitting a certain mold, or measuring up to another’s preconceived notion is removed, campers receive both the comfort of knowing they belong and the confidence to openly engage with others.
Yes, summer camp provides children the opportunity to camp out under a starry sky and climb around a high ropes course and kayak across a lake. And yes, camp provides children with one or two or three (or more) weeks of unimaginable fun with cabin mates and counselors from all over the globe.
But what camp is cannot be limited to a list of activities and programs. Camp is an opportunity for children to grow in their independence and self-confidence. They learn to feed their creative spirit. They dare to discover new things both in the world around them and in themselves. They are taught to recognize and value the intrinsic worth of those around them and to confidently interact with others. They begin to understand the importance of belonging to a community of individuals and to contribute freely and personally to that community. In short, the summer camp experience affords each child the chance to discover themselves, to develop their character, to recognize and relate to the world around them and to genuinely value the people within whichever community they might find themselves. It just so happens this opportunity might come to them while they’re swimming across a lake or shooting a bow and arrow or singing songs around a campfire.