Camp is often described by campers and counselors as their “happy place.” The place that allows them to be their true selves, the place that allows them to leave their stresses behind, the place that allows them to try new things and perhaps fail but still find success in their attempt to try. Camp is needed today more than ever before for so many reasons.
First, camp is a necessary and a healthy break from technology. There is no greater source of stress in our household than when my wife or I ask our sons to stop playing the X-Box, put their phone down or step away from the computer. The magnetic pull to their devices reminds me of the force field in Star Wars that the Jedi were unable to fight off. Our boys would love to participate in something else but the power of the electronic can simply be too much for them. You can’t even really blame the kids as we as adults are just as bad. Our phones ping with the news of the day, text messages from friends, emails from work—and we can’t resist the draw.
That’s where camp comes in. At first when we tell campers and staff that there are no electronics allowed at camp, you’d think that you told them that we are not allowing them to eat, drink, or go to the bathroom during the day (vital functions to survive). Once camp begins however, you can see a vastly different look on the campers and staff’s faces—it’s a look of relief. They are free of the pull to their phone or game, they are free to smell the fresh air and touch the grass on the field, and they are free to form a real friendship and not one that is formed via text or snapchat. It’s amazing what can happen when you put 15 10-year-old girls or boys together without their phones. Rather than stare down and hurt their necks they actually learn to speak to one another—to laugh, to fight, to cry, and to learn. Camp provides those opportunities when nowhere else even considers it.
Next, camp is pure fun and fun is slowly being removed from every aspect of our children’s lives. When I was growing up, school was something that I looked forward to. I still remember my PE teacher, Mr. Bevis, because I saw him every day and we played outside every day. Can you imagine now what would happen if our kids were pulled from a third language to go outside and play? I can only imagine the letters and emails that would be sent to the principal. Camp is the opposite of today’s schooling. Camp allows campers to explore the outdoors and nature and to participate in activities that they’ve never experienced before like rocketry, magic, or fencing. Camp allows campers to dress up in silly costumes, to paint their hair a wacky color, and to cheer at the top of their lungs without the fear of being criticized.
Finally, camp allows for a child to grow and learn without their parents nearby. I’m as guilty as the next parent when it comes to hovering over our children. I serve them meals like they are dining at a restaurant and I’m anxiously checking to see if they need more water or seconds on their plates while criticizing them for eating too far away from the table or chewing with their mouths open. At camp, children have freedom. They can make choices about activities that they want to try without worrying about what their parents will think, they can eat two slices of pizza without hearing their parents ask: “Are you sure you need a second slice?” They can swim in the deep end supervised by lifeguards without the fear that we have instilled in them. Camp provides children with the opportunity to explore, create, and discover who they are and who they’d like to be.
Camp is needed now more than ever because the scenes of our youth are slowly disappearing—stickball games don’t happen in the streets, kids don’t ride their bikes to and from school with the only rule being to arrive home before sundown, and parents don’t treat their children like children but rather like equals. Camp is needed now more than ever to allow kids to simply be kids.
Sam Borek is the owner and director of Woodmont Day Camp. To learn more, visit woodmontdaycamp.com!