Camp is more than just a place to play: Camp Builds Skills for Life!
At Camp, You’re in Charge!
I love the moment when a camper says “I can do it!”
Every summer, I see campers experience the liberating feeling of self-discovery, and a big part of that is finding their strengths and asserting their independence. Whether they’re helping a new friend with a game or activity, speaking up about their role in a team challenge, or trying a sport for the first time, every child learns something new about their unique abilities during camp.
Since summer camp is a different environment from home, the usual dynamics can’t be taken for granted. Camp removes the routine of mom and dad being responsible for what happens and puts the camper in charge! Campers learn to take care of themselves and make many of their own decisions. They’re responsible for making sure things get done: brushing their teeth every day, putting their things away, choosing what they want to eat, making decisions about their activities, deciding who to be friends with, how to spend free time, or how they want to interact with others. Since they get to be themselves without influence of parental expectation, campers have the chance to identify themselves as who they want to be, rather than who their parents, classmates, or teachers want them to be. As the self-determination we foster at camp continues to grow, campers learn how to affirm who they are and what they can do to give back at home, at school, and in their community.
Being away from home also gives campers a chance to learn more about themselves, and puts them more in touch with their strengths and abilities. When they are given a responsibility (like clean-up or set-up for an activity), they are learning to rely on themselves. When they are following directions in a craft or team challenge, they are learning to trust staff and counselors in training. Trusting adults other than parents is useful during many transitions that take campers away from home, like school, spending time at their friends’ houses, or going on trips with their classmates or youth groups.
Working Together, Being Ourselves
Collaboration is also a great way to develop independence. I enjoy watching our campers do strategic games like scavenger hunts or relay races, because it’s a great way to see independence emerge, and each camper’s individuality is celebrated and important. It takes the whole team to win, but each individual plays a part. Every camper on the team has to decide a strategy for themselves, focus on their responsibility, and take action on their own in order for the whole team to win.
Of course the wealth of new experiences at camp are a gateway to these transformative moments. You don’t know that you can catch a fish, find a crawdad, or fix your own mountain bike unless you’re in a setting where you can keep trying until you have learned how. Camp reshapes expectations and goals by encouraging grit and an independent spirit. Camp programming presents challenges as a chance to grow and succeed.
Camp also increases independence by encouraging individuality. Our programming has a lot of opportunities for imaginative play. Using imagination and creativity is one of the best ways to learn who we are and how we think. When I am thinking creatively, I come to a better understanding of what makes me unique and some of the ways that I think differently than others. When campers feel free to be themselves, they can become much more comfortable with making their own decisions and talking about their own interests and goals.
Camp Changed My Life
I know firsthand that the journey of independence is lifelong, and that Camp is a key step in the right direction. As someone who went to a small school with the same people from 1st-8th grade, with parents and authority figures close by, it was hard to figure out who I was, and who I wanted to be. I felt defined by the expectations and opinions of others: my peers at school, my teachers, and my parents were always around me. I had very little “breathing room” to be myself and make my own decisions.
Going to camp for the first time in the 9th grade was life-changing! I was in a beautiful setting with new friends and young role models all around me, and they let me make my own choices. My newfound independence was the most powerful part of my camp experience: I finally got to be the person I felt like I was, without pressure from parents, teachers, or classmates. That week at Camp was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin, and I never looked back. Camp empowered me to blaze my own trail, and the encouragement I got from counselors and friends helped me to forge my grit and determination: I was much more comfortable pursuing my own interests and felt more confident that I could achieve my goals.
I knew when I started working in camps that this was a part of Camp culture I couldn’t live without.
So at Leadership Academy, one of the foremost goals of our programming for youth and children is that our nature-based day camps become a gateway to their independence. Each camp has unique programming driven by a common goal: we encourage campers to use their imagination and let their creativity lead the way. We are intentional in our efforts to help campers build lifelong skills like confidence, social intelligence, determination, and optimism. Connecting children with nature is a part of their healthy development and lifelong learning, and we look forward to seeing our campers celebrate who they are and the choices they make, at Camp and beyond.