We recently read an article on the American Camping Association website entitled Who Are Your Campers? The article included a rather interesting illustration of statistics about children today. One of the pieces of data that most caught our eye was the statistic about children and media. According to the illustration, children today spend, on average, 7.5 hours with media. One of the key points of summer camp has always been the greatly reduced exposure to technology. It’s recommended that children sleep 8-10 hours a night, which leaves 14-16 hours left in a day. That means that approximately half a normal day for a child involves the use of media or technology of some kind. Even schools are focusing on transitions to electronic based curriculums. In contrast to the considerably less media exposure of previous generations, it’s easy to assume that summer camp must be practically culture shock to modern children who.
Although many camps offer activities, such as video and photography programs, the noticeably fewer technology options at summer camp leave campers with a considerable hole to fill. This is where athletics come into play. There is no shortage of sports at Camp Weequahic, and campers quickly become very involved in both their intra and inter camp teams. The lack of outside distraction allows them to focus on athletic performance. Although it’s not about winning, per say, for the majority of campers, an astounding number of them voice pride in the improvement of their skills since last year or vocally share their objectives for this year with coaches and counselors over the first few days of camp. They clearly come with goals, which suggests that, contrary to what one might assume, campers actually anticipate a break from media outlets and look forward to it enough to take the time to outline ways in which they hope to improve themselves during their summer camp experience.
Summer camp used to be thought of as an escape to fresh air and nature from urban jungles. Perhaps it still is for some. It seems, however, that it has just as much become a respite from technology and the emphasis on social media that has overtaken the lives of contemporary children. Campers spend time at camp focusing on qualities of life that have taken a backseat to technology in recent years: the value of face-to-face communication, spending time outdoors being active, working toward personal goals in improving skills in sports or hobbies. This is one way in which the motivation for coming to summer camp may have changed but the hoped for end result is still the same. This also is what keeps summer camp a timeless option for filling children’s summers.
Time can sometimes be the biggest paradox. Take the distance between the beginning and end of camp, for instance. Even though it still seems like just yesterday we were welcoming the buses for the start of Summer 2012, it also seems like it has taken forever for this coming weekend to get here. We’ve been counting the days since we said goodbye last summer and have spent the winter putting together the biggest and best Camp Weequahic summer ever! And speaking of that time paradox…
Even though we’ve been here for a few weeks now, making a few tweaks to the campus as well as meeting and getting to know our staff while preparing them to meet our campers, the time has flown…until now. Now that we’re down to those last TWO DAYS before the start of camp, it seems like the clock has stopped again. We’re ready. The staff is ready. The campus is ready. Now all we need is our campers! And so we wait…We wish we had a magic button that we could press that would speed up time to Saturday and then press it again to slow the summer down once all of our campers have arrived.
Adventure, tradition, fun, and nature are all words that come to mind when one mentions “summer camp.” One word that doesn’t instantly come to mind, however, is “exploration.” Summer camp is an exercise in exploration.
There is, of course, literal exploration. Traditional summer camps are primarily located in rural areas, away from the city and suburban settings in which most campers live the remaining ten months of the year. The natural surroundings are the perfect environment for exploring nature and the outdoors.
There is the exploration of new things. Summer camp, by design, is conducive in trying the untried. Campers inevitably try something new at camp: new food, new activities, new ways of doing things. Some of the newness breeds ongoing new interest while some highlights the joys of routine and tradition.
The exploration of self, while slightly more esoteric is also an of summer camp. Campers learn how to be independent at summer camp. Sure, they’re surrounded by their friends, and camp is a largely social environment. Being away from parents for several weeks, however, helps children learn how to make decisions and gain confidence in themselves. From their newly gained independence, they begin to see and understand the value of individuality.
Exploration of culture and tradition is also a prevalent theme of summer camp. Summer camp is an amalgam of cultures. Many campers and staff come from all over the United States as well as the world. Exposure to people from geographic regions outside their own provides an open forum for exploring the subtle nuances that distinguish various cultures and their traditions.
Freedom of exploration is an important aspect of child development, and no place provides more of an open forum for exploration than summer camp.
Actress Jami Gertz, a summer camp alumni, once said, “There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing.” Although on the outset this seems like just another quote about summer camp, the use of the word “special” makes it standout. “Special” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “distinguishable,” “superior,” or “of particular esteem.” Every camp, when planning the summer, strives to create an experience that sets it apart from other camps. To those whose exposure to summer camp is limited to Hollywood’s interpretation of it, there may seem to be little that distinguishes one from another. However, to those who attend or have attended summer camp, each one is unique from others. For campers and staff alike, to think of the more than 12,000 summer camps throughout the United States as a collective summer experience is to think of all pizza as having the same flavor. Sure the basic ingredients are the same. Most pizza pies even look similar. But, depending on which toppings you add, one pie might taste very different from another. It’s that special flavor of each camp that gives it that “esteemed” place in the hearts of those who have called it their summer home. Choosing a camp is more than simply deciding to send your child. The values, traditions, activities, facilities, staff, and even the duration all play a role in deciding at which summer camp your child will find the most success.
In a couple of weeks, another summer will start, and thousands of young campers will taste summer camp for the first time. They’ll spend their first night sleeping in a bunk/cabin with fellow new campers. They’ll bond with favorite counselors. They’ll try at least one activity for the first time. They’ll make new friends, learn new songs, and, for the first time, experience life away from their parents. As Jami Gertz said, it will be “special” as they begin gaining the independence, self-reliance, and self-confidence that are all-important ingredients in creating a life that is “distinguishable.” Ultimately, however, the role that summer camp plays in the successes of the lives of campers as children and, as they mature, in helping former campers meet the challenges of adulthood does not simply come down to experience but also in the choice of summer camp. So whether you’re just starting to consider summer camp, have begun searching for a camp, or will be one of the thousands of prospective families touring summer camps this year, be on the lookout for the right mix of ingredients that will create that “special” experience for your child.