As the Summer Youth & Family Program Director at Wolf Ridge, I get the privilege of talking to many parents each year. One of the biggest things I have learned from all of these conversations is that it is not easy for parents to make the decision to send their children to summer camp. While summer camp is a long-standing summer tradition, it can be scary to send your child for a week with people you may not yet know well who promise to take care of them, keep them safe, teach them new skills, explore nature with them and teach them how to make a new friend in person rather than online.
But anyone who has gone to summer camp knows there is something magical about experience.
Each and every camp in the world is different, not only because of where it’s located or what the camp focuses on, but also the traditions, staff, and campers who are part of the camp community. They give the camp its identity. Every camper and staff member has memories associated with their time at camp — memories that stay with them for their lifetime. Most people fondly remember their counselors, food, wilderness trips, campfires, classes and silly antics in their dorm room. It is an experience that shapes a child’s character and life.
Camp teaches kids new skills and knowledge.
Although schools offer many different activities, camp allows kids to try new activities or dive deeper into a topic or subject they are interested in. For example, a child who is very focused on science, technology, engineering, and math may be interested in exploring the world of renewable energies. At Wolf Ridge, the Green Energy Camp encourages campers to use their creativity to design and build a solar-powered oven or how to harvest the wind to sail a boat on Wolf Lake. For kids interested in farming and gardening the Farm, Feast and Fire Camp allows campers to explore the inner workings of an organic farm – how to cultivate the soil and harvest vegetables while learning what it means to live a healthy life and the importance of taking care of the earth. Camps encourage kids to really get out of their comfort zone, to take some risks learning new skills, without the looming fear of failure and resulting repercussions.
Camp teaches self-confidence and courage.
One of the most rewarding effects summer camp has on kids is boosting their self-confidence and courage. Unlike school, where children are so often faced with strict academic, athletic, and even social competition, summer camp is a non-competitive environment. At camp, every child is recognized for their unique skills and personality and is encouraged to try new activities that are outside of their comfort zone. Although those activities can be intimidating at first, being faced with new situations helps in developing their desire to explore and seek new adventures.
Camp teaches leadership and responsibility.
Whether it’s cleaning up the games in the lobby, doing KP for meals, or taking down the campsite while in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, there are countless opportunities for kids to take initiative at camp. Every day, counselors and wilderness trip leaders go to great lengths to display the importance of leadership. They are positive role models in every activity that the campers do. There is no better place to develop leadership skills than on a wilderness trip at Wolf Ridge. Whether it is a 3-week Boundary Waters Canoe trip or a 2-week kayak around Isle Royale National Park, camp counselors and wilderness trip leaders work to inspire and motivate kids to be proactive, set goals and work as a team. They are invaluable role models at camp, and often leave a lasting positive impression on the young campers.
Camp lets kids experience independence and teaches them decision-making skills.
For many kids, camp is their first real experience away from their parents. They find themselves faced with decisions every day, some of which are traditionally made by their parents. For instance, camps might offer several different dining options at each meal. Without their parents there to tell them to eat salad because they don’t like fish, kids find themselves faced with the decision about what to eat. This sounds like a small thing, and in the grand scheme of larger things, perhaps it is. However, this is an exercise with long-term benefits. Once kids understand the decision is theirs, they tend to get adventurous. As a result, many will try something new and be surprised to realize they like foods that they might not have tried at home.
The sense of adventure gained also carries over into their daily activities.
Choose Your Own Adventure Day allows campers to make a choice on what they would like to learn or do that day. They have to decide whether it’s better to stick to a tried and true activity they love or try something new. Some kids are comfortable with being more adventurous and choosing a new activity than others. The ability to make decisions without the pressure of peers or parents and in the open, welcoming environment of camp is not only accepted but encouraged, children learn to choose what they want rather than what they feel that others want for them. Again, this may seem like a relatively small accomplishment in the larger scheme of growing up, but many professionals and books about success emphasize that the children who grow up to become the most successful adults learned early to understand what they wanted and how to make the choices in life that would help them achieve their goals.
Camp is a place that encourages kids to build real face-to-face relationships with a diverse group of people.
In today’s world, kids may use Facebook or texting to talk with their friends, but camp allows kids to talk face-to-face with people from all over the world – every race, culture, and socio-economic level. In this ever changing world, we need our next generation to be tolerant, empathetic, and respectful of each other’s views and beliefs. Camp may be the first time a kid meets someone who is different from them, who has a different home life than they do, who attends a different type of school or who is from a different country. There is an intimacy about sharing living quarters that makes people more open and accepting of each other. Camp friendships, like family relationships, are built upon the knowledge that everyone must co-exist. Camp may be one of the first times a child realizes that each person has their own story and that everyone’s story deserves respect and kindness.
There are so many options for our kids’ time in the summer. But let’s not forget the true value of a camp experience. It is a gift we can give kids that they will benefit from and remember forever. If ever there was a time when the world needed a generation of future leaders who understood the complexities of living in a community, having tolerance, and being open and empathetic — that time is now.