Do you know the history of camping? Most people don’t and it is too bad. It’s an interesting story and I’m happy to give you my take on it.
Back in the early 1900’s, several individuals and families, seeing the swelling slums in the northeastern cities, began to think of ways to get kids back to nature. Striking out from New York and Boston, these camp pioneers found pieces of land with lakes, trees, clean air, and a lot of space on which to build the first ‘residential camps’ in the US.
Mostly school teachers and coaches, these early camp leaders built relationships with families who chose to send their children to camp. The founding purpose of camp was to provide an environment of wholesome activity in which the values of independence, teamwork, gratitude, and community were transmitted, both overtly and subtly, to children.
Looking back at over 100 years of organized camping, I think these early professionals were on to something. Camping is nolonger just for children from the northeastern major metro areas, though they still make up a large proportion of campers. Camp has spread across the country and world and now is a big part of lots of peoples’ lives.
There are a lot of reasons why camping has thrived over the years. The main reasons, at least in my opinion, are the relationships built between campers and the staff at camp, being a part of something special, and the skills (physical, psychological, and emotional) that are developed. When you combine value-driven adults who are eager to lead with campers excited to learn, grow, and build new friendships, you’ve got an incredible start for creating a remarkable camp experience.
Before setting off for camp, some campers and their parents wonder about how they will fit in, since it’s natural to try and imagine new experiences ahead of time. However, like most adventures, camp often turns out to be wonderful in ways that can’t be completely anticipated! If you’re still wondering about going to camp, you’ll be interested to hear about the experience of India (9) and Athéna (6), who crossed the Atlantic from France to attend Camp Weequahic last summer. Well, at first the plan was for India to go to camp, but after watching the Camp Weequahic video and getting goosebumps 10 to 20 times, Athéna became determined to go with her sister. Their parents did a lot of research and supported the girls going to camp 100% — a combination that led to a fantastic summer camp experience for the whole family!
The girls’ mother Shaila-Ann, looked for a camp to meet her specific criteria—a camp that was not too big, near a major airport, co-ed, and with tons of new activities for her child to experience. Shaila-Ann also feels it was important to choose the camp before presenting it to the children (especially for those as young as hers), so they felt secure with a decision made by their parents and didn’t feel pressured by such a big question. She also reports that looking back, using online resources like the video “really gave a feel for the actual camp experience,” and allowed India and Athéna to participate in the process.
The family met camp directors Cole and Kate at an information meeting. They immediately felt that Cole’s criteria for choosing staff was in line with their values and could see that he was fully dedicated to camp and facilitating a caring family environment. These parents especially felt that nobody could “pull the wool over Cole’s eyes” and this gave them “tremendous confidence in taking the leap of faith to send the children to a place [they] had not visited themselves.” Once at camp, the girls felt included and supported by camp staff and other campers, which is what their parents had predicted! The girls were happy and their parents enjoyed that reassurance with so many miles between them.
India and Athéna really loved camp and also gained a first hand experience of diverse American culture—exactly what the family was looking for. India was thrilled that she could communicate with Spanish speaking campers from Florida although at first she imagined they were from a different country and not part of the United States. Camp really broadened her concept of the States and understanding of North American families and geography! Athéna learned that she can make friends and have a wonderful time without being completely fluent in English—now both girls use those skills in meeting people and exploring their world. Their parents still make sure to share how proud they are of their girls who fiercely embarked on their camp adventure and had such a memorable time. They haven’t pushed for details about everything and Shaila-Ann says, “even today several months later the girls will suddenly relate their success in overcoming their initial fear of going down the zip line or a funny incident with one of the wonderful counselors that made them laugh. . .”
Shaila-Ann is thrilled that, “the Camp experience enabled my girls to feel that they can do pretty much ANYTHING–since they felt accepted and “at home”–at camp in a foreign country they had never visited!” Learning they can feel secure and happy on their own anywhere built tremendous confidence and India is thinking of studying in the US when she is older. “For my younger daughter who was not so fluent in English, the experience showed her the benefits of speaking up in order to interact with others and that skill will last a lifetime!”
Camp Weequahic is committed to caring for individual campers and creating an environment where campers grow and friendships blossom. Camp staff are trained and dedicated to helping campers feel included and encourage campers to care for each other. This reciprocity of sharing/caring is core to the whole inclusive experience and foundational to developing capable children–even as young as India and Athéna. Now that’s kid power!
Do you have a similar story to share? How has summer camp shaped independence in you or someone you know?
Thanks Shaila-Ann, India and Athéna for sharing your adventure–and well done girls!
We started a new tradition at Weequahic a few years back that I look forward to each day while at camp: getting each camper’s happies for the day.
Every night, I go through the boys bunks and ask for their two favorite memories from the day. I often get a lot more than two! These happies run the gamut – activities (especially waterskiing and tubing), playing on a team, getting up on stage, the recently completed Evening Activity, chicken nuggets for lunch, etc.
This is my way of saying good night to each boy at camp and represents one of my favorite responsibilities: really getting to know our campers. Our female leaders at camp do the same for the girls.
It’s so ingrained, in fact, that some families have started to do it at night in their own homes. I love it!!
Focusing on your favorite memories at the end of a day gives you a leg up in lots of areas. First, it helps our campers who are missing home focus on everything great they experience at camp. Secondly, they have to think critically about their day to find what they were happiest about. Finally, it helps focus the mind on gratitude towards others. None of these ‘happies’ are created in a vacuum!
As we ended 2010, I couldn’t resist asking the kids about their happiest moments from the 2010 summer and year. As you can imagine, there was a wide range of answers. Here are the highlights:
100% mentioned their friends and/or being with their bunk
Activities were huge happies, especially waterfront, zip lining, and gaga!
Evening Activities such as MTV night and our Friday Night Camp Fires (and the smores!)
Tribals and Olympics (our two Color War experiences) were huge hits
Outside of camp, our little community was happy about:
Friends at camp and at home
A great list from a great group of kids. Thanks to everyone for sharing!
We’ll continue to ask for everyone’s favorite memories each day (staff – you, too!) this summer. Make sure you are thinking about it before you head off to bed. In fact, I suggest you start practicing at home right now!
Have you ever dreamed of adventure?! Have you ever wondered what life would be like in the Poconos? Have you ever wanted to do awesome sports, eat great food and live in fantastic cabins (great for relaxing)? The best place to be is Camp Weequahic!
Did you know Camp Weequahic offers more than 10 sports? Wow!!!! I can do a lot of water sports like swimming, tubing, wakeboarding, fishing, and waterskiing. I can also hike, do archery, gaga, soccer, gymnastics, roller hockey, track, football, and more. Camp Weequahic is the perfect place to learn and find a new favorite sport! But if I do so many activities I’ll need a good meal.
Weequahic is a marvelous place to find delicious foods! I can dig my fork in a plate full of salad. Or maybe twist my fork in a plate of spaghetti. Or maybe try a soft warm pizza. And for dessert: chocolate chip cookies, cookies, brownies, and more. And on my birthday, I get a big homemade cake to share with your cabin mates. After a long day, I’ll probably want to head down to my comfy cabin for some well-deserved rest.
Comfy cabins with roomy beds and a beautiful bathroom, Weequahic has it all! I can share a room with all my friends my age and have a fantastic game of cards. My roomy beds are comfy and just like at home, not stiff or too mushy but just right for me! At evening time I can plop down in my bed then take a breather for the night.
Weequahic is the best summer camp I know! From sports to food to cabins with my friends! It’s a fantastic place to spend the summer break! “Please Mommy and Daddy let me go the best place that I know!”
As parents, we are always on the lookout for experiences that help our children learn new skills. We enroll them in music lessons, martial arts, sports, theatre, choir and, of course, summer camps. But we all know that the best programs (and the best educational experiences) are ones that go beyond the basics of teaching skills to help develop our children’s character. The basics of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — are all essential ingredients in summer camp experiences.
“Camp teaches values such as self-esteem, teamwork, and caring — areas where traditional schools sometimes cause more detriment than good. And camp allows everyone, not just the top student and the best athlete, to thrive and enjoy the process of learning,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA).
Everything we’ve written about on this blog so far — being ready for camp, unplugging from the digital world, traveling to camp, developing interpersonal communication skills, interacting with camp counselors, participating in camp traditions, and learning new sports and skills all contribute to building character.
When mom Martha realized that her son Jaden had come home with crucial life skills — taking care of himself and making good choices — she knew that camp had served a crucial role in his life.
“I felt like they were living a free life,” she says. The rules were there, just not stressful. This kind of independence creates the necessary space for the foundations of character to blossom. “I could not believe the person he had become – just a new person – totally confident in himself,” she says.
It’s no surprise, really. Camp activities, to be successful, require all the participants to have self-discipline and an unselfish sense of camaraderie. “There is just something about living with a group of boys,” mom Wendy says after sending her only son Justin to camp for the first time. Living communally in cabins and bunks requires teamwork, creativity and a willingness to work together.
The camp directors, staff and counselors deserve much of the credit for the character development Martha and Wendy saw in their sons after just a few weeks at camp. They work hard to develop programs that bring a diverse community together around common values and goals, and everyone benefits – campers, parents and staff, and the world they come back to each fall, bringing their good character with them. Camp is about educating the whole child and allowing them to flourish, so that we all as a society may do so.
In an earlier blog we wrote about how to judge whether or not your child is ready to go to camp and pointed out that it really depends on your unique child and their level of maturity. One mother, Christine, puts it this way, “each kid is different…each mum is different …so I do not feel I can really give blanket advice. . .” However, Christine’s 12 year-old son was ready to go to camp—so ready that last summer he came to Camp Weequahic from Switzerland and arrived without knowing a single other camper!
Nicolas had mostly attended an international school and studied English in Switzerland, so his communication skills were well developed and he felt comfortable with the prospect of adjusting to a new culture. He had also previously visited the United States and after switching to Swiss school last year, his mother wanted him to retain his fluency in English, learn about American culture first hand, and make American friends. Christine says there are a number of American camps that promote their programs in Switzerland but she avoided their outreach since she “did not want to send Nicolas to the United States just to meet other French guys!!!”
Christine decided instead to look for a “really American camp” on the internet and spent a lot of time researching and comparing her options. What guided her final choice was the Camp Weequahic website with its video clips, and she was drawn to the camp’s obviously family atmosphere. After all, she was sending him a long way to try different things and have new experiences! Since Nicolas travelled from Europe, a three-week session seemed the perfect fit—two weeks seemed too short and four weeks seemed too long for a first time camp experience across the Atlantic.
Christine’s nieces both had a wonderful camp experience in the United States, but Christine felt that Nicolas would be more open to forging friendships and getting to know American kids, if he ventured on his own—and every mother understands that each child is different! Nicolas completely agreed about coming to camp on his own and since he was a little familiar with American culture and speaks English, that’s what worked for him.
In Geneva, Nicolas has developed friendships with students from all over the world and his mother’s commitment to raising a globally-aware child was well under way, but coming to the United States added a whole new level of intercultural awareness. For example, camp gave Nicolas time to develop deeper relationships with Americans his own age and broaden his knowledge about the game and traditions of baseball. He also experienced cultural details that a tourist might miss. Nicolas loved Camp Weequahic so much that he wants to return and is now dreaming of coming back as a CIT (Counselor in Training). His younger brother has also caught camp fever and wants his turn as a camper too!
No matter how many miles a camper literally travels to camp, the adventure stretches them in many ways and contributes to measurable personal development. Campers return changed from both travel and their personal journey–and in Nicolas’ case, even more fluent in American English! Have you sent your child on a long distance to camp? How did the experience help your child develop self-reliance and skills? How did you decide what your child could handle?
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Christine and Nicolas!
What do you get when you put nine kids and three young adults into a room for 21 days with no computers, cell phones, or video games? Well, in the best circumstance, something pretty awesome: a whole bunch of new, lasting friendships!
In my experience, the single biggest worry children have in going to camp for the first time is “will people like me?” They are going away from home and mixing it up with children from all over the US and, possibly, even other countries. Let’s face it, it’s a big deal! We’ve found that speed at which campers build friendships is directly related to their feelings of comfort at and enjoyment in camp.
So, how do you go about building a lasting friendship at camp? Here are a couple of ideas campers should follow:
Be Kind. I know it sounds funny and probably too simple but it works! Going into a new situation, the best way to show you are open and interested in building friendships is to treat others as you would want to be treated. For 99.9% of us, that means a smiling face, a kind word, and being included.
Be Yourself. Sure, you can go off to camp make up a new ‘you.’ However, I’ve found it easier and more successful for kids to be simply themselves. You’ll have more than enough time for everyone to get to know and appreciate who you are!
Be Present. The idea is to be truly at camp, engaged in what the bunk or group is doing, and not sitting on the sidelines or with your mind wandering elsewhere. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you’ll have doing the most random, goofy things at camp. Speaking of fun….
Have Fun! The more fun you have with the kids around you, the more likely you are to building lasting friendships. Notice I said “with.” Enjoying a laugh at someone else’s expense is never a good way to make a friend. Remember idea #1!
There are a few other important factors for building friendships at camp that parents should ask about:
The Counselors. How does the camp interview, hire, and train their staff. When you speak to families currently attending the camp (and you should), ask them about their child’s experience with the staff. These young men and women will have a tremendous effect on the campers’ ability to build friendships.
The Program Day. Being together all day, every day can be tough on friendships, even new ones. Through experience, we’ve found a day where campers get to spread out away from their bunk from time to time provides a healthy mix of new and known experiences. This leads to more stories, more excitement, and more interesting interactions.
Atmosphere. Is the camp, well, campy? Do they sing goofy songs, create time for unstructured (but supervised) fun, instill a joie d’ vivre for everyone?
While this list is not exhaustive, it does touch on the more important aspects of building friendships at camp. It’s something we work hard on at Weequahic and can’t wait to do it again next summer!
The shorter season camps have come to an end, and we asked parents and kids to share with us some of the lessons they learned from their first foray into summer camp.
Martha and Jaden
Martha was born and raised in Peru, and had no childhood experience summer camps. Last year, a family friend sent her child to camp for the first time, so Martha decided to try it this year with her 9 year old son, Jaden. Other kids were talking about summer camp and Jaden was full of questions.
“I didn’t push him to go,” she says, “He was ready to go. Jaden is a child who enjoys everything. He’s a very adaptable kid.” Jaden is a self-described Lego-builder, reader (The Warrior series, currently), and he loves to play Wii. When asked to finish the sentence “Camp is like ___” he had just one word in mind: FUN!
When asked about the funniest thing at camp? “When we were playing waffle ball with shaving cream and we all got covered with it. I looked funny!” he says.
This year Martha chose the 3-week option for Jaden. “I think he could have done the six weeks,” she says, “but for me it was too long. Next year he will go for six weeks.” Martha says camp will make Jaden a better person because he is making friends, having fun, learning new skills, and dealing with emotions like homesickness.
“I learned wakeboarding, tubing, gaga ball, and how to be part of a tribe, which I’d never done before,” Jaden says. “I also learned to be away from home by myself for the first time.”
Martha said the camp’s efforts to keep in touch with her were incredibly helpful in dealing with her own apprehensiveness. The camp sent her frequent updates and she would go online everyday to see the latest photos of camp activities.
Martha and Jaden also exchanged many letters throughout the summer. In his first letter, Jaden reported that “camp is awesome!” and that he loved the turkey meatballs. Martha loved the correspondence, saying, “Jaden would remember and tell me what I wrote in my letters, and he would tell me things he had done at camp – doing the climbing wall, making friends in the bunk, and so on.”
The lessons learned from camp go much further though than new sports skills and songs. Martha learned that Jaden is “a strong child and very willing to try new challenges. He has shown me that I underestimate him and I still see him as my baby but I know he can accomplish a lot and can take care of himself and make good choices; and that makes me happy.”
Now that camp is over, Martha says Jaden can’t stop talking about it. “When I went to pick him up he was happy to see me, of course, but he was more excited to show me around camp.” She would ask him if he brushed his teeth and he would answer with a story about something fun at camp. “I wanted to talk about health issues,” she jokes, “he wanted to talk about camp!”
Wendy and Justin
Wendy and Justin live in Florida, so traveling to Pennsylvania for his first year of camp was a big deal for the entire family. Justin had never been away from home for more than two days. “It was scary for me,” Wendy says, “wondering how it was going to be for him.” Not for long though.
“The camp makes it easy on the parents,” she says now. “They post hundreds of pictures every day.” The first picture she saw of Justin was of him getting off the bus with a huge smile on his face. The next day he was at the lake on the water trampoline. “Those photos are the best way to do start conversations,” she says.
Justin is twelve years old, plays clarinet and baseball, and he loves to bowl. “Camp,” he says, “is like a really long sleepover where you get to have fun, make new friends and try new things.” His favorite part? The evening activities, “because they are always fun and creative.”
Since camp has ended, the conversation has moved back to being in person, but the topic is still camp. “For the first five days after he got home it was non-stop random things about camp,” she says. “I have talked with other mothers and both of them said all the kids could talk about were the fun things they did at camp. But the real happiness and laughter comes from the photos and letting them show you what they did at camp and telling you stories about their life there. The web site helps a lot.”
“Make sure you go to visiting day,” Wendy also advises, “so you can live what they did and so you know the people they know.” This way, when Justin talks about camp experiences, Wendy can really share with him. She has been on the tennis courts, seen the music room, walked to the archery targets and swung the same golf clubs Justin learned on.
“When we sat down to tag all the photos we thought were cool, his were totally different than mine. Things I thought were just nice,” she says, “he thought were the coolest things. Justin would describe people in the pictures as well as all of the activities that he participated in. “He grew up,” she says.
For Wendy, the camp experience was more than she could have imagined. “When you see the video you think it can’t be that good, but then after camp you think the video is not half as good as camp. Camp is 10 times better than the video.”
Both Justin and Jaden attended Camp Weequahic this summer. They have both already made plans with their bunk mates to be back next year. For 6 weeks!