Young campers learn about themselves and the world around them
The Canadian Camping Association is in the midst of a national marketing campaign called Thanks to Camp.
Campers and camp staff across the country have been asked to produce a short video of themselves holding a poster displaying their own words to complete the phrase, “Thanks to camp, I…”
One would expect young people to mention the fun at all the programs and activities; the excitement of learning to swim, paddle, sail or rock climb; the beauty of the camp setting; the new friends or the enthusiastic counsellors. All of these comments are included in their statements, but what is also expressed in many of their responses is a thoughtful, deeper understanding of themselves, others and the world around them.
“I know I can do anything I set my mind to.”
“I can allow myself to be vulnerable.”
“I appreciate the simple moments of life.”
“I learned I am not ‘cute.’ I am strong and independent.”
“I fell in love with nature.”
“I know I am never alone.”
Camp is a special place set apart from the rest of the world where campers with both new and old friends spend much of their day in the outdoors learning and having fun under the guidance of a much-beloved counsellor. Research has proven that simply being outside in nature boosts a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. In addition, with limited or no access to cell phones and devices, there is more time to chat face-to-face with pals or with a caring counsellor whose prime responsibility is to listen to and care for the campers in his charge. For a brief period, children focus on simple things: how to stay dry in the rain; the quickest way to make up their own bed; the menu for lunch; the theme of an all-camp program; the destination of the next canoe trip or maybe an awe-inspiring sunrise or sunset. They can be themselves, living in the present, relieved temporarily of the pressures on today’s young people or what my son-in-law and father of two teens labels “first-world problems”: the perceived need to acquire the latest version of smartphone; keeping up with the latest fashion trends or the challenge to consistently present a positive image on social media. Then there are the real issues: worrying about the next set of school exams, qualifying for a sports team, or a very real problem at home.
When a camper arrived at camp with emotional baggage – a recent death of a grandparent, a bullying experience at school or a pending divorce rife with animosity – my counsellors would ask, “How can I help my camper? What should I say?” I explained to my staff that the best that they could do for all their campers was to pay attention, listen sympathetically and give their campers the most fun-filled, exciting time at camp so that when they returned home, they had accomplishments and happy memories to recall and help them through whatever challenges life beyond camp presented. It worked. Many parents comment on how much healthier, happier, more confident and relaxed their children are after their time at camp.
At camp, young people have the opportunity to function independently, for a limited time, without the involvement and support of their parents. They discover that in lieu of parents, they have the support of their cabin mates and counsellors and that they can also depend on themselves and their own judgment. They decide what to wear (does it really matter if the same favourite old T-shirt is worn day after day?); what skills they want to improve; how to spend their free time and what to eat (although counsellors are charged with monitoring their camper’s diets). They tidy up their belongings because there is limited space in the cabin that they share with their fellow campers. They willingly help to gather the wood and build a campfire so that the cabin group can enjoy a marshmallow roast. Whether playing a game of soccer or crewing in a sailboat, campers learn to do their part so that everyone has fun and succeeds.
At camp, as young people enjoy new experiences, live a simpler life often out-of-doors, acquire new skills and develop lasting relationships, they discover that they have become more confident, self-assured, stronger, thoughtful and caring individuals. Check out the website Thanks to Camp (thankstocamp.ca) to learn firsthand what campers attending a variety of camps across the country appreciate about their experience at camp.
Catherine Ross is a retired camp director, author of several books and many articles on camping, Canadian Camping Association volunteer and a board member of the Kids in Camp Charity.
Photo: www.bigstockphoto.com © Nataliya Dorokhina