This summer I have had the distinct pleasure of hanging out at summer camp— neither as a camper (an experience which I treasured in my youth,) nor as a camp parent (which I also enjoyed)— but rather, as a professional consultant and spouse of a camp owner/founder. Now several years removed from being a camp parent and having had the opportunity to view camp from a unique vantage point, my perspective on camp has been both reinforced and redefined.
I have always embraced camp as a welcome break for children and teens from the rigors and structure of their school and home routines. In today’s fast-paced, high-pressured world in which children are basically raised with electronic devices in their hands at all times, summer camp offers even more of a reprieve from our insane, anxiety-laden lives.
Camp sessions run from just a few days to 7 or 8 weeks and offer a range of activities from outdoor adventure skills to sports training and all types of special interest programming like theatre, music and culinary arts. Yet, whatever a camp’s program/activity focus, most provide tremendous growth opportunities and lifelong benefits. Among these are to experience being away from home for the first time; to learn to get along and live with others in close quarters; to make new friends; to take healthy risks and conquer fears; to unplug electronics and be present; to play joyfully; and to appreciate natural outdoor beauty.
Growing up, my sisters and I came home after school and played in the backyard or with the neighborhood kids until it was dark outside. We were all called home for dinner, not on our cell phones but by our screaming mothers. Our fun was pure. We often came home dirty, with scrapes and bruises. We were allowed to watch one television program before bed. There was no Cable TV, no Netflix, no Hulu, no DVR. There was no social media, no stressing over which photos to post of each activity we engaged in, paired with the perfect hashtag. We ate dinner every night as a family. We had long conversations. Dad quizzed us on current events and asked if we had “read any good books lately?” We talked about our days and our dreams and our friendships and the things we enjoyed.
I’m not suggesting that none of this happens today. Families still sit around the dinner table and have real conversations. But those dinners are fewer, sandwiched as they are between soccer practices, karate lessons, dance recitals and basketball games. Many other meals are eaten in the car and on the run. Today’s children are so fully scheduled with activities and so completely absorbed in their electronic devices and social media that they live less and less in the moment and focus instead on “what’s next.”
At camp, if only for a few days or for several weeks, these same children have a chance to just be kids. To sit around a campfire and sing songs. To scream cheers in the dining hall until their voices are hoarse. To catch their first fish, waterski or canoe for the first time, create art from a block of wood, or climb a tree to face a ropes course challenge. To make new friends from across the country or around the world. To have meaningful, in-person conversations with cabin mates or teammates instead of texting and Facebook messaging friends in the same room.
Even with all of the modern enhancements and amenities at today’s camps (and there are many, to be sure, including private coaching for elite athletes, indoor gyms with complete fitness training equipment, heated pools, extensive trips across the country and even internationally, healthy food offerings that include nut and gluten-free options, and so much more,) camp remains a place of pure and simple comforts, a respite from the stresses of the real world. The key for many camp owners/directors is to strike a balance between providing a high level of instruction/skill-building that is bringing children to camp in the first place (and the reason parents are shelling out substantial tuition fees) with the core values, traditions and joy of summer camp.
At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I would like to share some thoughts about one camp that has successfully bridged this gap: The Berkshire Soccer Academy for Girls. The Academy (more affectionately known as “BSA”) is a girl’s soccer camp in Otis, Massachusetts, set on a pristine 116-acre campus in the Berkshire mountains. BSA offers multiple five-day sessions for girls 10-17 who are passionate about soccer and who want to improve their skills while having fun. BSA has created a “special sauce” which combines professional-level soccer instruction for several hours each day— plus fitness training, health and nutritional components— with fun and engaging activities like cooking, fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, yoga and arts & crafts. At night, campers partake in wacky game shows, sing-a-longs, campfires and s’mores. This balanced, well-rounded approach to sports-specialty camping has proven quite successful, with campers and coaches/staff yearning for more.
Many other summer camps offer a balanced, ‘complete camper’ approach, and lots more are likely to follow suit. The challenge for camping professionals is that all camps must continue to evolve to remain relevant to today’s families, while retaining the important core values and essence that define “camp.” In other words, the more camp changes, the more it stays the same.
Each time I leave home and arrive at camp, my spirit hearkens back to my days as a young girl and the pure joy I felt at camp. I feel blessed to be able to spend time now, later in life, in such bucolic and peaceful surroundings. I breathe deeply, inhaling the scent of fresh pine needles, gaze out at the gently rippling, spring-fed lake and listen joyously to the cheerful shouts of “happy campers” everywhere… and I know I am home. I am so profoundly grateful to experience, first-hand, what camp means to so many children, teens and their parents—all of whom need camp more today than ever before.