Summer camp started in the 1800′s as a way to expose the hard working children to the outdoor environment during the summer months. What was learned in a classroom could be learned differently in nature. What was not able to be taught in a classroom could also be taught in the outdoors. So often, I am asked for a summer experience that will teach a child to:
Our goals for summer are no different than they were way back when. In 1905, camping advocate, Dr. Winthrop Tisdale Talbot wrote:
“In cultivating general morality and kindly behavior the camps are helped chiefly through their usefulness in making boys strong vitally, in improving their power of digestion, in increasing their lung capacity, in letting the sunshine pour upon every portion of their bared bodies. In camp, poor and rich lads stripped to their swimming trunks are on an absolute equality; the best man wins. Courage, generosity, goodwill, honesty are the touchstones of success in camp.
In other words, provide a place for all children to breathe deeply of clean air, disconnect from technology, practice climbing and playing and developing skills, eat healthy foods, compete hard, and live side by side with others from all walks of life to become a better member of this world. The goals and rewards of camp have not changed since these words have been written. So boil it down to 7 things every child needs to build stronger character at summer camp:
1) New relationships, not just with peers, but with trusted adults other than their parents.
2) Confident identity that makes the child feel powerful in front of others. Your child may not be the best on the ropes course, the fastest swimmer, or the next teen idol when he sings, but chances are that a good camp counselor is going to help your child find something to be proud of that he can do well.
3) A sense of control of their lives, and those experiences of self-efficacy can travel home as easily as a special art project or the pine cone they carry in their backpack. Children who experience themselves as competent will be better problem-solvers in new situations long after their laundry is cleaned and the smell of the campfire forgotten.
4) Equity and fairness , making sure that all children are treated the same. The wonderful thing about camps is that every child starts without the baggage they carry from school. They may be a geek or the child with dyslexia, the one from the home with everything or with little, the entitled vs the grounded. At camp they will both find opportunities to just be kids who are valued for who they are. No camps tolerate bullying (and if they do, you should withdraw your child immediately).
5) Physical development offers so much to how a child feels about themselves. Ideally, camp offers fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need. Not that smores (marshmallows, chocolate and graham cracker treats) don’t have a place at the campfire, but a good camp is also about helping children find healthy lifestyles.
6) A sense of belonging to that very special cabin and special division and special camp. All those goofy chants and team songs, the sense of common purpose and attachment to the identity that camps promote go a long way to offering children a sense of being rooted and will be with them the rest of their lives.
7) And finally, a sense of their culture. It might be skit night, or a special camp program that reflects the values of the community that sponsors the camp, or maybe it’s just a chance for children to understand themselves a bit more as they learn about others. Camps give kids both cultural roots and the chance to understand others who have cultures very different than their own. There is a perfect camp for every family and every child. And yet, camp is just too good to pass up. Please make sure that summer camp is a part of your child’s life.