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!