Camp Fills the Need Part 3: Why Summer Camp? Why Now?

Editor’s Note: All this week Camp Alleghany for Girls Director Elizabeth Shreckhise is writing a blog series called Camp Fills the Need. It’s a series that addresses the huge impacts that screens are making on our kids, our families, and ourselves, and how camp provides an antidote to the pervasiveness of screens in our world. First she wrote “Part 1, Research on Screen Impacts.” Next she wrote Screens Challenge Home Life about how screens have wormed their way into our domestic sphere and what little tricks she uses to tamp down screen times at home. Finally, she’ll talk about how nature-based sleepaway summer camps provide an antidote to the omnipresence of screens not just as a digital detox, but in their own right — in relationship to nature, relationships, physicality, emotions, spirit, and sensations. We welcome feedback in e-mail or in the comments section of the blog.

Why Summer Camp? Why Now?

Often I’m asked why kids should come to sleepaway summer camp when there are so many choices of things for them to do in the summer months these days. And my answer that fits every situation, and almost every kid, is that summer camp is the necessary other half of a child’s education.

Come Outside and Play!

Summer camp is full of learning, and while it’s not the same as book learning, or classroom learning, it is its own kind of learning that helps develops the child’s head, heart, and hands in many ways. It also helps kids to be better learners when it comes to books, classrooms, and assignments precisely because they’re more broadly and deeply developed as people after having attended sleepaway summer camp.

Summer camps that are steeped in nature and traditional full-body, hands-on, creative activities act as a check on and counterpoint to the whole culture of screen-centric, sedentary, indoor activity that is so prevalent today. In some cases, summer camp might be the only alternative to the shrunken life that being indoors and sedentary all the time creates.

A nature-based sleepaway camp develops the whole child in a well-rounded, robust, sensory way.

Take a Deep Breath In

Summer camp has always helped with a child’s self-development, increased their exposure to a variety of people, taught them new skills, and kept the nature bond solid. But where decades ago camp was an optional enhancement to life, now it’s become a must lest a child become imbalanced and worse, actually have a less sharp mind because, in addition to a school year full of screens, they have access to a summer full of screens.

But I wouldn’t want you ton think that summer camp is just a nice digital detox. It is that, but it’s so much more. Camp isn’t about what a child is escaping from, but what they’re moving toward, what they’re immersed in.

Rising in the morning and going to sleep at night in tune to the rhythms of the natural world offer a critical reset to the body’s natural home base, free from modernity, electricity, and city noise. Our Program Director, Casey Tucker, wrote an excellent blog about this that’s backed by science.

Living deeply with other people for weeks at a time in tight but pleasant quarters stretches the child’s sense of self, her individuality and her resilience, as well as nurturing her sense of belonging to the family of humankind.

Participating in camp-wide elements like camp in-jokes, camp songs, camp age cohorts, nighttime campfires, skits and games, and little rituals like Reveille and TAPS gives the child a sense of her place in the world as one of connection and meaning.

Using her own body to propel a canoe, pull a bow back to shoot an arrow, or hoist herself up in a ropes course or rock climbing brings her body to life in powerful new ways, showing her what she’s capable of through her own will and skill.

Practicing dance routines, theatrical exercises, photography, or art helps her to massage her creative side, and develop a whole new approach to problem solving and invention.

And doing all this undisturbed by car rides and commutes, harsh alarms and due dates, and the pressure to “get all As!,” impress the boys, and keep up with the alpha girls via Instagram and text, gives her space to just be herself, a young and impressionable child or teen in a too fast world.

Camp is not just about what it’s not. It’s actually even more about what it is, and how that piece is so needed for kids today. It’s critical to their physical, mental, and emotional health. AND IT’S FUN! 🙂

Come to Camp

When you’re considering what your daughter is going to do next summer, keep in mind these modern pressures, and how they are completely unique in reference to all of the rest of human history.

Summer distractions may have always been there for kids. But never before have kids had to fend off the all-encompassing power of the Internet and its omnipresence in phone culture and the power of social media.

That’s why today more than ever a summer of one- to three- to six-weeks away at summer camp provides her with essential access to the life force — the sun and sky, the flowers and trees, the river and the wind, the actual smell of grass and the sound of grasshoppers and crickets, and the ability ton interrelate with mentor-counselors and fellow campers In. Real. Life. !

How restorative it is for a child to find herself immersed in this natural and beautiful world with loving caregivers, excellent and expansive programming to meet her different needs and aims, a friendly culture that is designed to increase her age appropriate self-responsibility and confidence, and a world removed from the anxiety-inducing pressures of social media and its unrealistic expectations.

And yes, one of her resistances to camp might just be giving up that phone for three weeks, and FOMO (fear of missing out). But if that’s your concern let me put it to rest — they not only get over the lack of a phone pretty quickly, many parents report that their camper develops better self-policing of phone use and a better personal perspective on the world of social media just by stepping away from it and immersing in to a wholly complete, wonderfully new phone-free environment.

Technology isn’t going away. But it’s up to us how we use it, and up to us to develop and nurture good values and habits around it, including balancing use against nature and real activity.

Tackling that alone is a lot to ask of parents today. Tech is everywhere, and the pressure is so great. Let camp be your partner in addressing this by providing the other half of her education, what is essentially now the missing piece in kids’ lives today.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to reach out any time to discuss your child’s summer camp needs.

— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls