So, I am about to set off for my 11th summer of camp! I spent four summers as a day camper when I was a kid, and I’ve worked on and off as a camp counselor, art instructor, and now a camp director ever since!
I have worked at three different camps, all very different from one another. In high school I spent two challenging summers as a CIT and Junior Counselor at a day camp near my parent’s home in New Hampshire. In college, I spent two wonderful summers at an all girls overnight camp in Maine, where I discovered my love of teaching and nature. Nowadays I direct a summer camp program for kids with social cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.
Although these three places are so, so different on paper, they had one very important thing in common; they provided AMAZING experiences for young people. In our modern world with all the screens, pressures, and obstacles inundating kids on a daily basis, camp (in whatever form is right for an individual child) is SUCH a necessary thing for so many reasons….
- Camp takes kids to places they’d never been before. When I was 13, I went on a 3 day excursion to Maine with my camp to go camping and white water rafting. I was a nerdy, nervous kid who had never been away from home for more than one night and regularly chose to watch the Disney Channel over riding bikes with my friends. I remember how exhilarating it was to work with my fellow campers to paddle through the rapids we encountered…and more than that, I remember seeing the milky way for the first time ever! I was a city kid; even though I spent my summers in New Hampshire, I’d never really been far away from the neighborhood lights to see the stars. Laying in that random field in Maine, staring at the stars with my friends, tired from a day of rafting…it’s by far one of my happiest memories of all time.
- Camp allows kids to tap into their creativity and discover new talents. I cannot say enough about this one. As a counselor and art instructor, I have watched my campers discover passions that they take back home with them. Painting, running, acting, dancing, archery, yoga, gardening; these are all activities that kids can try out at camp on a whim. At home, during the school year, it’s much harder for kids to try something new; not many parents have time to drive their kid to another weekly lesson, nor do they want to invest in equipment for an activity that might not stick. Camp lets kids try out new activities and be creative without any added pressure.
- Camp allows kids (and staff members) to connect with one another. I made some amazing friends at camp back in the day, both as a camper and as a counselor. Now that I work at a camp where many of my campers are actively working to improve their social language skills, I see the power of camp to foster real connections. Campers and staff members are facing fears on a daily basis and sharing common experiences, all while being mostly separated from the distractions of social media and technology. The friendships formed at camp are so pure and special in this way; and in my experience, they really stand the test of time!
- Camp pushes kids to exit their comfort zone and enter their silly zone. I once had a camper with food rigidity problems proudly declare on the first day of camp that he would only eat five foods: toast, bagles, pasta, chicken nuggets, french fries. By the end of camp he was trying whatever was on his place and happily announced at our final campfire that he LOVED cucumbers! I’ve seen the rise and fall of an imaginary camp superhero called “treezus,” and I’ve seen little girls giggling endlessly while they double-dog-dared one another to take shots of siracha sauce on taco night. Where the school year is defined by accomplishment and letter grades, camp is defined completely by experience; so kids have a chance to push their personal boundaries and be a little bit out of control.
- Camp allows kids to rise above who they’re told they are, and become who they really are! As previously mentioned, I was a girly-girl couch potato as a kid, and didn’t think I was capable to doing adventurous things…until I went to camp. I learned to hike, kayak, pitch a tent, start a campfire, hang my food to keep away the bears, and play practical jokes on the boys cabin when the counselors weren’t looking. Now, as an adult, watching my campers cast aside the limits they’ve believed to be true and push themselves to become who they want to be is literally the best part of my year. It’s why I work as hard as I do, as long as I do, as often as I do. Planning and preparing for camp while also teaching full time is hard, and giving up 2.5 weeks of my summer to take on an enormous load of responsibilities on very little sleep is even harder. It’s so important for all children to be away from their normal life long enough to get a handle on what they really love, and who they really are; camp provides a safe space and an unlimited number of opportunities for each and every camper to soar.
So there you have it! Why CAMP is such a valuable experience for kiddos:)
Now You Tell Me…
Did you go to camp as a kid? Ever work at a camp?
How do you disconnect with technology and reconnect with yourself each summer?