Love Letter To Camp

A Love Letter to Camp,

I have a poster on my wall at work that says, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” Webster indicates that a dream can be defined as a “fond hope”. Many of us spend our life reaching for a vision with the dream it will be realized. Maybe that is the essence of life.

Many of us in the camp community share a dream that more children will have a camp experience. To me, that is a worthy dream. Yet, the journey we must take to realize that dream is invisible to many.

There are warning signs on the road to any vision. The first warning sign tells us that vision is nothing without execution. The second warning tells us that a vision is not for the weak of heart.

A worthy vision takes time, sacrifice, patience, persistence, failure, endurance, humility, and did I mention – time? Oh, and dare I fail to mention, messiness. And, how we hate messiness.

Yet, with time, deliberate or not, intentional or not, change does come. Sometimes it is revolutionary. Hmm, note the relationship between revolt and revolution. But, let’s not go there. Other times, change is an evolution often unseen over time. Then there is transformative change. Transformative change is often related to survival. Regardless, change is a part of life.

LA Times writer Rosa Parks said, “Somehow we’ve managed to turn childhood into one long, hard slog”. What kind of change is she describing? I would suggest it has been unseen, overtime – an evolution. As a result, many parents are unaware of how radical the change in childhood.

If true, what did we forget that allowed this change in childhood to take place?

Did we forget that for generations we grew up outside. We walked to school. We rode our bikes all over town. We splashed in creeks. We ran barefoot. We played in the dirt. We collected bugs. We shared childhood characteristics such as; innocence, energy, wonder, and laughter. (Did you know that children laugh 4 times more than adults?) We even thought that the notion of being cooped up all day inside was a form of punishment. Yet, today, kids spend 44.5 hours in front of a screen – with minimal movement. The world has 22 million children under the age of 5 who are obese. The term ‘globesity’ has been coined to define the problem. We no longer grow up outside.

What else have we forgotten? I believe we have abandoned childhood and the appreciation of the fact that play is legitimate and developmental. In fact, it is critical to positive child/youth development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared that play is essential to the development of cognitive, physical, social, and emotional health.” Yet, as a parent, I no longer feel I have permission to view play as a positive use of my child’s time. Play has become a bad 4 letter word.

Doesn’t the loss of play present a threat? Experts across the country talk about the fact that we are ‘retreating indoors’. I fear, we are losing opportunities to create memories. Memories of fishing, swimming, hiking, and exploring. We may be forgetting that our best computer is our brain and our memory is the storage bin for knowledge and experiences.

David Elkind calls what is happening the ‘criminalization of childhood’. Look at the number of schools that have eliminated recess, physical education, art, and music. Consider the number of national campaigns that are teaching fear instead of responsible safety.

All of this impacts the camp community. Retreating indoors, lack of appreciation for play and its developmental value, and our general, unspoken fear of one another is the antithesis of the camp community. As a result, the camp experience risks becoming something to fear, the unknown, and the unfamiliar. We are faced with a shrinking population with the ‘memory’ of camp. As a society we are altering our DNA, our genetic code for the camp experience.

Yet, I understand. Parents are raising their children in a very complex world. Children and youth are trying to navigate a different world than the one in which their parents grew up. Of course, this has always been true except today the speed of change is causing continuous modifications of the landscape. It is not easy.

All of this said, it is also true that there is no better time than now to actualize our vision, our dream, and our preferred future – more children having better camp experiences. The camp community may well, in fact, offer greater value to the lives of children, youth, and adults than ever before in our history.

Consider the fact that we are leaving our children the legacy of saving the planet. Yet, we are doing so without giving them firsthand knowledge of the intrinsic value and beauty of the natural world. We are also becoming a global community with disappearing boundaries where the ability to negotiate conflicts and differences will be paramount. At the same time we are diminishing opportunities where children can learn how to establish authentic relationships, practice and learn to ‘get along’ with others, communicate in order to enhance understanding, and learn to listen.

Daniel Pink who wrote A Whole New Mind says that IQ only accounts for between 4% and 10% of one’s success in the world. His book suggests we are entering a conceptual age where humor, storytelling, the ability to synthesize disparate pieces of information and knowledge in order to see the ‘bigger picture’, relationships and empathy, and meaning based on purpose and spirituality are going to be critical competencies for this generation and the next. This describes a quality camp experience.

So, what do you do as camp professionals? First, understand that you are the “Field Guide to Childhood”. You know how to do this work. Learn to clearly articulate and translate the value of the camp experience in order to illustrate how it adds value to the success of individuals, communities, and the world. Adopt a philosophy of abundance. We are not operating from a deficit model or one of prevention or intervention. Instead, we are operating from a position of promotion – promotion of an individual’s strengths and assets. As parents, trust your intuition and give yourself permission to support childhood. Be prepared to actively participate in a transformative change in how our culture views childhood, play, and the camp experience!