Case For Camp Title

The summer camp experience is one that many in older generations can point to as definitive moments in their younger years, and those moments allowed them to become more experienced and versed in the ways of life and how to approach it. Everything from building skill sets with activities they enjoyed doing, gaining social skills by meeting other kids in their bunks, learning how to behave in groups and what is acceptable behavior in a group format, all of these skills are reinforced in the “Real World,” so to speak whether that be through jobs, family, friends, etc.

But, if you were to approach children today and ask them what their opinions about summer camp would be, I would venture to guess that many, if not close to all, would say that summer camp is something like “it would be nice, but I’m not sure if I could stay away from home,” or maybe something like “I think I might enjoy it, but what about being all alone; I wouldn’t know anyone thatApprehension was there.” It’s interesting to see, in my opinion, just how apprehensive children are today. Was that the case way back when our parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc. went to camp? Did they have a gnawing fear in them that seemed to sabotage their experience before it even began? Where did all this stress come from about an event or scheduled activity that hasn’t even happened to the child?

The environment that children used to learn about themselves, friends, their skills, etc. has changed drastically year to year in recent memory. Even looking back to the 1980s and 90s would show drastically different times than what they are today. If we were to critically compare the environment that children were growing up in then versus in the present, I believe it would show that many critical areas of development are lacking. As the times have changed, the environment has evolved and changed with it. But the question I believe we have to ask ourselves is: what has it changed to? And, going even further, is it a change that is acceptable or one that brings benefits to children of today?

The Sandlot MovieA movie that I would like to draw upon as a kind of example of what a kid’s environment 'was' like is The Sandlot. The Sandlot features a boy who moves to a new neighborhood and, through a love of baseball, finds himself a group of friends in the area. Now, it does not start off positive and welcoming. There is a kind of feeling out period, a get-to-know-you time when the interactions among the boys start off as distrusting, even poking fun at the new boy, but evolve to create the camaraderie that grows as the movie progresses. When you watch that kind of movie, do you feel nostalgia about a time when kids could just go out and play a game and get to know a group of people through an activity? How does that compare with today? Are those kinds of opportunities present? Or, as time has gone on, have you seen a shift from the “go out there, try and see, if you fail, just pick yourself up and try again” mentality? Do things, like playing a pickup game of baseball, just seem too complicated now?

A contributing factor that I, personally, see when looking at a movie like The Sandlot and comparing that time to the present is the stress of having to perform. What I mean by that is in every instance of waking life, adults and children are under pressure of having to perform at their very best in a multitude of activities seemingly at the same time. Looking at it from a child’s point of view, for example, would include thoughts like, “If I don’t do well on this test, it will bring my average down three points; that means I won’t make the honor roll,” or “I have to run this 100m dash under 11 seconds or else the coach might bench me; my time has been increasing the past few races, and I really have to turn it around here.” Thoughts like these seem to work themselves into almost anything we do these days. Even if you try to ignore them and attempt to focus on the event itself, you can still feel those moments of tensing muscles, cramps, and flashes of fear that can lead to the outcome you were trying your best to avoid. Now, when you look at The Sandlot and the kids in that time, doesn’t it seem like there is more of a focus on the actual activity itself? There is no stress or fear about failure, what the future might mean after this pitch, if I can’t catch the fly ball. Just the game.

Now, by this point, you’re wondering, “Okay, so when is the shift to camp coming? What does summer camping have to do with any of this?” In my opinion, summer camps recreate that environment we see in the The Sandlot, a kind of time capsule that embodies all of the good will, tolerance, good sport attitude, and encouraging spirit that allows children of all ages to engage in activities without the fear and dread of what may follow afterwards. Summer camps allow children to enter that environment that was so like the playground after school where children are able to get involved in activities, athletic or otherwise, with others and learn the skills of social dynamics, teamwork, accepting of others and their ideas, while also seeing what they bring to the table, what they can excel at, how they can propel the group to better levels of performance.

Putting children in the camp environment is a great start, but another pillarPillar Image to the success of camp are the people who work in the camp, the people who support the children when they are at activities, putting on a show, speaking in front of others. Those people are the counselors. The counselors at camp are the enablers that allow this kind of environment to exist. And it’s not just encouragement or teaching that makes the counselors such a valuable asset. Counselors are able to establish an environment where campers can be comfortable and simply be. The pressures that children face while at school or on the field can be let go while at camp. The fear of failure has been replaced with pure enjoyment for what is going on at the current moment, of what is happening in the activity itself and not worried about the consequences afterward. Counselors enable this change in attitude by bringing more presence to the activity and reassurance when things don't work out quite like campers would want to. Counselors provide a foundation of understanding that children can turn back to when they are trying new things without fear to hold them back.

An overarching goal of summer camps, I would even say, is to bring The Sandlot back into a contemporary world. The question going forward may be: are the kids today willing to take that step onto the field?

That will conclude the blog entry for this particular subject. Thank you very much for taking a moment to click on the page and taking a look. If you did enjoy it or if you think it resonated with you in a way, perhaps you can think about sharing it on social media. We’ll have more entries coming in the future so keep an eye out on Lake Greeley’s social media.

By Matt Buynak Jr. (06/10/2014)

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