By Matt Barr of CAMPS CANADA
If adults that have attended summer camps as children are asked what their fondest childhood memories are, it is often found that they recollect and share their camp memories. Camp memories are created every year because of the great experiences shared by campers while at camp but more importantly because of the other campers and staff who share those experiences together with them. Long after campers “graduate” from the camp experience, after they say that last goodbye on the last day of their last year at camp, they fondly recall the cabin-mates and counsellors that provided them with the activities they experienced every summer.
In this age of hockey practices, piano lessons, MCAT preps, computer courses, and math tutors, all of which can be important features in a child’s development, camp offers the venue to learn the “bigger” skills – the ones that can’t be learned in any classroom. Ask yourself if you feel that taking turns is a skill… how about being nice to people around you… what would you say about working as a team – is that a skill? Camp is a place where these skills and so many more are “practiced” so regularly but in a way in which campers don’t even realize this is happening. The camp environment, free from the regimented systems of many other learning environments, is in fact a place where children learn… but in a way that is comfortable and meaningful, and whose lessons are arguably the most important a child will be taught in their entire life.
Although no formal study has been done, there is an oft used statistic kicked around by camp directors these days. Many of us have observed that many of the weddings we are being invited to are between campers that attended our camps decades prior and that the frequency of divorces in these marriages are staggeringly low. Now this can be a very unnerving thought for first time camp parents sending their little six year old off to day camp for the first time but it does illustrate a very important point: it appears that as a result of the depth of experience of attending summer camp, the relationships formed there are stronger and more meaningful than most others formed in a child’s lifespan. This is not to say that parents should send their children to camp in hopes of them finding a spouse! However, when children play together, laugh together, are challenged together, sing together, and live together, what ends up happening is that they grow together and with that grow closer to one another learning the values of friendship and community in a way that cannot be duplicated in other summer settings.
Ontario is beautiful country and nothing inspires its discovery more than the camp experience. Whether campers are hiking through forested hills, swimming in freshwater lakes, gazing at the setting sun, playing in open fields, or meeting its friendly wildlife, camp’s everyday activities often give rise for a love of this land. The direct impact of this is an evident environmental conscientiousness among campers who learn to clean up their mess when at camp. But the larger, and equally important result is a greater social consciousness in children, and an awareness that they are a part of something bigger… that their actions affect others in both the short and long term.
Regardless of a particular camp focus, camp activities often balance competitive and cooperative, land and water, outside and in the shade, athletic and creative. When we get too hot, we get a drink of water and go into the shade. When we’ve been playing a lot of team sports, we refocus on individual challenge and achievement. The concept of balance is one often spoken about, but seldom modelled for young people today. We often find ourselves commenting in front of our children how we wish we could work less, sleep more, eat better, and exercise more frequently… At camp, balance is practiced and as a result enjoyed by its campers.
Matt Barr is the owner of Camps Canada, a summer camp based in Ottawa, Ontario. As a voice for Canadian Camp Owners and Camp Directors, Matt is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest trends and issues in summer camps. He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org