Camp Tops the List

The media have been publishing stories related to the importance of camp against the backdrop of today’s economic woes. Some of the articles, in an effort to provide helpful advice, suggest that parents could eliminate camp from their household budgets – or truncate the experience in one way or another. Unfortunately, I think that reporters might be inadvertently misleading parents by advocating that children can do without the social education of the camp environment. While I know it can be a hard choice for families who are finding themselves in unexpected financial straits, I also know unequivocally that camp is not discretionary!

It’s not just me shouting from a soap box as a camp director.

It’s the research! Read it for yourself. Hear it from children who have benefited from a camp experience. Listen to parents underscore their kids’ growth in the essential 4Rs of camp: respect, responsibility, resilience, and resourcefulness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics verifies the anecdotal studies: “It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact with the world they can master, conquering fears while practicing adult roles. Creative free play protects a child’s emotional development and reduces a child’s risk of stress, anxiety, and depression.”

Just ask some successful adults who decided to let today’s parents know how camp changed their lives. Each of these celebrities attributes their camp experience to helping them invent or reinvent themselves. If you are skeptical, see and hear in their own words how their lives were improved “Because of camp.”

Some of the blog comments (not on this site!) I’ve recently read, in response to media stories, point out the difference between “camp people” and “non-camp people”! If you’ve never been to camp yourself, it’s truly hard to understand the intangible value of a camp experience, where each person knows they belong, feels connected, and is confident that they make a contribution and a difference to the world around them as a part of something bigger than themselves. If nothing else, camp is an antidote to the Narcissistic Epidemic chronicled by Jeanne Twenge and W. Keith Campbell! And it is still so much more, affording endless opportunities for closeness with nature, authentic connections, and human-powered activities.

I am saddened when parents are led down a path that encourages them to think of camp as a luxury. Today, more than ever, camp is vital in the context of our technology-tethered and pre-filtered society. Dr. Michael Thompson, a school psychologist and co- author of Raising Cain, says quite specifically that our children are paying for the loss of free play with: obesity, high stress levels, increasing diagnosis of ADHD, depression and emotional fragility, social incompetence, excessive dependence on adults, and the loss of a relationship with nature.

Camp is about a lot more than s’mores and songs. And, try as we might, even well-intentioned parents cannot fill the social educational needs with home-designed summer outings and one-on-one activities, even if they include more than mall trips and video-game arcades. Kids need to navigate on their own – make mistakes and decisions, problem-solve, find leadership opportunities… learn how to bounce back from adversity as well as practice making human connections beyond texting and Twittering.

For those gap times at home, you might leave this book on the coffee table for the camp-aged set or flip through it together with younger children: 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! by Joanne O’Sullivan. Many of the ideas in this bucket-list book for kids are rooted in values that are part of the camp community. In fact, you could think of the camp experience as one infinite bucket list!

Deepak Chopra may have said it best: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” This summer, it might just be camp. It certainly needs to be on everyone’s annual bucket list!

Tuck-in Tips

  • Name 3 things on your bucket list!
  • What are you looking forward to at camp this summer?
  • Talk about something for the family bucket list.