Category: Summer Camp

Silliness and spirit at summer camp

The Camp Answer

Two recent articles written by highly respected researchers have me thinking summer camp may be just the form of ‘medicine’ our kids need.

Researcher and author Jonathan Haidt has pointed to social media being the most likely culprit in the worsening mental health of our young people, especially teen girls. There is a great deal of info that I won’t go into here but you can read through his research in After Babel.

Specifically, Haidt points to the ‘like’ feature on the different apps which came into being in and around 2012. Rather than being about connection, social media morphed into performance or acceptance.

In another attempt to explain the rising mental health crisis, researchers recently published an article in the Journal of Pediatrics pointing to the lack of independent play in our children’s lives which seems to lead to negative outcomes. While we parents mean well, sometimes the over-reach can actually be long-term detrimental to our children.

Perhaps Camp is the Answer

As with most things, there are most likely a large number of inputs which is leading to the worsening mental state of many of our children. But, having been a summer camp director and watching children play and form communities for the past 22 summers (holy cow….), the two possible culprits above seem to make a lot of sense. And, in my mind, camp seems more and more like a very good answer to these predicaments.

While I’m a big fan of Weequahic, I’m completely convinced that if Weequahic is not right for a family, I want them to head to another camp rather than not do it at all. (And, if you know a friend who is searching, might I suggest another camp in Wayne County?)

What other environment combines insane amounts of fun, near-peer role models and a laboratory for socio-emotional learning? Oh, and there is a WHOLE LOT of independent, unstructured play. And no cell phones or tech. And kids meeting other kids from literally all over the world.

Jump into that pool for a few weeks (or whole summer) and watch what happens. Kids consistently head home saying ‘I didn’t even miss my phone’ and ‘best summer ever’ and ‘what can’t school be more like camp.’ The positive impact to our campers’ mental health is enormous. In fact, the ACA has actually put the power of camp into a research study.

Going Forward

I’m not suggesting parents cancel their kids’ social media or let them play willy nilly in the streets. We don’t all the latter, either. However, the more like camp our kids’ lives can be at home, I bet the happier and more well-attuned they’ll be.

Can’t wait for camp,

Addition by Subtraction

In the grand scheme of history, we have a lot. And, it seems we are always adding more. Sometimes this is a good thing. Other times, not so much.

Technology allows us to do so much more now than ever before. In fact, if you showed your phone to a person from just 100 years ago, they would think it a magical device. And, we’ve all seen the people who are glued to their phones walking the streets… and almost getting hit by a car. We could all do with a little less.

What about food? In many parts of society, it’s everywhere, all the time. And, while there are still too many people who struggle with a lack of food, we, as a society, actually have a larger problem consuming too much rather than too little. Some of us are really good at managing the excess. Others (like me!) struggle with saying ‘no’ to that extra two… or three cookies.

Camp is no different. We are always adding things to the property. In fact, I’m really excited about a new plan for building something fun down near the lake. We are also looking forward to our campers enjoying another two new programs this summer.

But, just like Chef Daniel’s cookies, you can have too much of a good thing. When camp becomes more about ‘things’ and less about the people, we’ve lost our way.

Sometimes the way to feeling or being better is to subtract rather than add.

What Should You Subtract?

Here’s a question for you: What, if you were take it away from your regular use, would make things better for you in the long-term?

For example, I spent a lot of time looking at info on twitter in January. I’d been helping our middle son with his college football recruiting and the ‘blue bird’ seems to be the biggest avenue for that process. T was purposeful… most of the time. At first.

Yet, even though I was trying to learn and help, I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the comparison trap, worrying about things outside of my control and, generally, becoming more anxious and impatient about the recruiting process.

Then camp happened. I got really busy with connecting with our campers and parents. I’ve traveled a lot recently to do home visits. We are putting the finishing touches on some camp projects and I’ve been helping with our Wayne County Camp Alliance friends.

In essence, I took a break from twitter and, frankly, I feel a whole lot better. Jack will be recruited based on what he does on the field and how his coaches help him. My job as his dad is to love, support and prepare him to go out independently into the world. By consuming less twitter, I’m actually adding to what is (much) more important.

Adding at Camp

Camp has a way of doing this for all of us naturally.

When we are together on the shores around Sly Lake, we put away most of the world’s distractions and focus on being truly present. And, yes, it is a gift.

Rather than sitting in the distractions of the digital world, we move. Instead of connecting with our thumbs, we are drenched in fabulous community. As opposed to our normal routines of school, homework, activity, bed it’s all connection, play, connection, play and hit the bed exhausted and smiling and full.

By taking away a lot of the devices and routines that fill out time at school and at home, we actually add space to fill ourselves with more moments and less things, more connection and less connectivity, more joy and less comparison.

Sometimes subtracting is actually adding.

Curious Before Furious

When going through your life, whose perspective do you rely upon the most? (Your own, of course.) It’s the most natural thing in your life: seeing all that is going on around you from your own point of view.

Henry Thoreau, the writer of a few very famous books, said that he’d spend hours looking at a scene from one perspective. The next day, he’d sit in almost exactly the same spot – just a little different – and observe the same scene. He did this over and over. (The guy was either really patient, driven or bored to tears. I prefer to think it’s one of the first two.)

Thoreau did this so that he could observe the same things from different perspectives. Claude Monet, a ground-breaking painter, did a similar thing with haystacks and other subjects.

“Ok, Cole, why all the art talk and perspective?”

I’m glad you asked: because everything can be seen from different perspectives. And in doing so, you get a fuller understanding of what is actually in front of you.

Curious Before Furious

You and your friends read the same book for a class report. But each of you take the same information in differently, stressing some points and ignoring others. You think you and your friends have been arguing but you’ve made up and now everything is ‘ok.’ You may want to check that from the other’s perspective… or a third. (“Hey, Jenna – you were there when Samir and I were arguing. I think we made up and all is good. What do you think?”)

It’s a great tool in life to be able to see a situation, moment or thought from another (and another’s) perspective. It’s very easy to get emotional right away when something is said and you hear about it out of context. As I heard recently, it’s better to be curious before furious. What was really said? What was the context? What was the intent?

I like that phrase. It’s one that can be put into action right away. Sure, you can be mad after you’ve gotten all the facts and perspectives. But at least do the work. It can actually save you a lot of grief in the long run.
Be curious this week ahead!