5 Things That Make Camp Different
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Barr is the Owner/President 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: email@example.com
People who have attended or worked at a camp know that it is a very special place. Powerful and
positive things happen in the camp environment that don’t happen anyplace else. The camp
community and culture produce changes in people that are unique and long-lasting. It
would be hard to make a complete list of all of the factors that make camp different. Here
are five examples to start us off:
Number 1 - Camp leads the way in using the best methods to help children learn & grow
Camp is a lot more than “something fun for the kids to do when they are out of school.” Actually,
camps are outstanding places for children to learn and grow. Why? For over 125 years, camps have
been the leader in using the number one key secret to teaching: children learn most from doing.
They learn most from hands-on discovery and practice, especially in small groups. The fancy name
for this is “experiential” learning. When children are actively involved in high-participation
activities, they not only learn much more, but their levels of attention, enjoyment, and motivation
really blast off.
In fact, camp is such a terrific community for learning that schools are now following the
lead of camps as they look for ways to reach students. Parents have surely noticed that their
children are spending much more time in school now working with “manipulatives” (hands-on materials
to learn concepts) and “real-world” situations. Kids do stuff like that at camp every five minutes.
Number 2 - Camp communities remove the typical pressures from school and support children in a
positive atmosphere that cherishes effort and persistence
One fast way to explain the incredible power of camping is in two words: “no grades.” It
is amazing how children blossom when the burdens of constant evaluation and a “permanent
record” are taken off their backs. Achievement is rewarded at camp just like it is at school.
But what makes camp a special community is its focus on celebrating effort. It provides
recognition when children try their best even if they don’t succeed right away. In this
less pressured atmosphere, children learn more readily what positive things to say and do
when they make mistakes or face challenges. At camp, children learn to be persistent and
positive. These values build stronger children.
Number 3 - Camp has distinctive value in preparing children for future success
How do we prepare children for life in a modern world? Key current buzzwords in the
workplace are “teamwork” and “greater responsibility for independent problem-solving.”
There are higher expectations for employees to get along with others and to think for
themselves. Again, camp has been leading the way by creating communities where kids
make daily decisions about activities. They are put into situations every hour where
how they act and meet their responsibilities will affect everyone else in their groups.
It’s important to teach our children to get along with others, especially in an
increasingly diverse world. Camps make a unique contribution here. Camps are
communities where children are put into groups with many children that they may
not know. This is often not true at school, for example, where children may move
from grade to grade with many children from prior classes who may live on the very
same block or not much farther. Campers may have a special friend or two in their
group, but at most camps the group assignments encourage building new relationships
and provide lots of practice in cooperation and compromise.
Number 4 - Camp offers an unequalled variety of opportunities to develop well-rounded children
Camps cut like a laser through the negative expectations and beliefs that can stick to
children and hold them back. Each year of a child’s life, he or she collects
more “I can’ts” than “I can’s.” It is, I believe, a tragedy that children
often “decide” what they are “good at” and “not good at” when they very young.
These early, limiting self-assessments may last through adulthood. When children
get more recognition for abilities in, for example, math and athletics than they
get for reading and music, then their choice of future activities and how they
spend their time will naturally tend to gravitate toward areas in which they have
had the greatest success in the past. This is why many of us as college students
took some interesting classes “pass/fail” - we wanted to learn without worrying
about getting a bad grade and ruining our “record.” Like most parents, I want my
children to be “well-rounded.” One of the big reasons my wife and I have sent our
children to camps is because they encourage “dabbling.” Children can participate in,
learn about, and enjoy a wide variety of activities without any need to be an expert
in all of them. Camps offer a fantastic variety of different opportunities throughout
every day. I cannot identify any other institution that comes even close to the range
of recreational, dramatic, musical, artistic, environmental, and other interest areas
that are offered to boys and girls at camp.
Number 5 - Camp combats youth isolation by offering positive and accepting communities
There has been a lot of recent media attention about the isolation of many young people. Camp
is about belonging - belonging to a group that respects and values each member. The
traditions and customs of each different camp are like a secret code that allows those
who know it to feel embraced by something unique and very special. Adult camp alumni
often return many years later to camp still thrilled by the “inside knowledge” of camp
legends and rituals that continue to inspire loyalty and a sense of connection.
Camp is, at its core, about learning how to make positive connections. The directors and
staff of camps work hard to create a community that is enormously positive and accepting.
Campers are urged to include, not exclude, others. They are praised for choosing new partners
and not always the same ones. They are encouraged to respect the differences between people.
In an increasingly sarcastic, put-down-oriented world, camps aim to be an oasis of personal
safety where demeaning comments and disrespectful behaviour are not tolerated and children
are taught responsible and positive ways to resolve conflicts.
* excerpts extracted from Michael Brandwein / firstname.lastname@example.org