It was the last night of a month-long session of camp, and as everyone said goodbye to their friends, one ten year-old camper hugged me, began crying, and said, “You made a huge impact on my life.” Ten years old.
My bias is obvious – I am a camp counselor at Falling Creek Camp in the mountains of North Carolina. Having never attended summer camp as a child, I fell in love with it for the first time this past summer and have not gone one day when camp didn’t cross my mind. My reasons for loving camp are numerous and varied, but one thing I know for certain is that, every summer, it has the same effect on campers as it does on counselors.
One of the most common arguments for summer camp is that it is the premier arena for kids to grow physically, socially, and psychologically. According to Dr. Peter Scales, “Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment. Most schools don’t satisfy all these needs.” Each summer, camps such as Falling Creek provide a blank slate for children to engage in experiential learning and constant exploration.
Credit: Falling Creek Camp
If students are to be successful academically, experiences like summer camp are necessary for their development. Summer camps everywhere build on skills learned in school while teaching children other aspects of life that they most likely don’t learn in even the best schools. I can tell you from the personal experience of campers developing around me at Falling Creek that summer camp is necessary, and the impact of camp on kids is nothing short of amazing.
Late one night, as my cabin prepared for what we call “Evening Embers,” during which cabins sit together and discuss the day, I experienced firsthand the sort of development made possible by summer camp. During this particular session my campers were all nine year-olds, and throughout their three weeks at camp we had worked as a cabin to combat some of the fears expressed by campers on various topics. On this night, we sat in a circle in the middle of the cabin and I kicked off the conversation. Everyone had the opportunity to put forth their ideas, whether that was about the previous day, the day ahead, or anything else. At the very end, as several of our guys were preparing to head to their bunks to sleep, one of my campers interjected: “I just wanted to say that sometimes it’s okay to be afraid, because you have to be afraid to be brave.”
Credit: Falling Creek Camp
To say my co-counselor Erickson and I were blown away would be a gross understatement. This one sentence, this one thought, would stay with me for the rest of the summer and I have referenced it a number of times since. In hindsight, though, it speaks largely to campers’ active social and psychological development throughout their time at camp. This nine year-old gave thoughtful and seemingly unbelievable advice to his peers, and I still think about it to this day.
Bob Ditter, who is a social worker specializing in child and adolescent treatment, considers the community aspect of summer camp to be crucial: “It is the crucible of this community that children gain self-esteem with humility, overcome their inflated sense of self, and develop a lifelong sense of grace and wonder.” Summer camp compliments the schooling students receive throughout the year, and it is extremely necessary that children experience both throughout childhood. If we embrace the importance of summer camp, we will likely be amazed at the results, as I have been at Falling Creek Camp.