Having just returned from another summer Camp Director’s conference (yes, we learn too!), we want to share with you two significant themes that echo repeatedly in these meetings as well as in parenting and camping magazines of late. The first is the general challenge of not succumbing to the age of instant communication. The second is the specific challenge of how to free up Camp Director/head staff time at summer camp, returning calls to parents so they can be out doing what they do best – spending time with campers. Ironically, both overlap when we think about the context of an overnight summer camp.
Let’s explore the issue of parents’ calls to camp first. Each year Camp Directors meet and debrief the summer – it seems we all echo the same sentiment. “Parents during the summer keep calling us when there is no need for a call and it did not used to be this way.” As one Camp Director remarked, “ When my father was running this camp if one parent called a session it was a lot. Now I have five to ten calls a day, most being unnecessary.” Well we understand how hard it is to not be updated and so at Manitou we will allow parents to call us if they are feeling or if mail has been delayed so don’t worry! But why was this need for instant communication not an issue 20 or 30 years ago at summer camp?
Of course, any good Camp Director would agree that sharing information with parents is important for optimizing the overnight camp experience. Certainly, if a parent has reason for concern (and/or relevant information to share), then of course communication needs to happen right away. Additionally, for any new camper we make sure we phone the parent to give them an update on how they are doing in the first five days. The challenge is that Camp Directors at summer camp and their head staff have a difficult time balancing the needs of parents with the time needed to supervise and support campers. Still, the most interesting question is why was this challenge not present 30 years ago at overnight camp?
A past issue of the American Camping Association magazine presents a realistic answer to this question. It said: “It used to be the job of parents to expose their children to the outside world but today it appears it is just as important to protect our children from the outside world. So we recognize that this balancing act; between parents’ needs for reassurance in an era of instant gratification, fear and insecurity with our need to stay entirely focused on the well being of each and every camper.”
Overnight camp gives back to our kids what we are forced to take away from them in the city – a precise measure of freedom and independence. Perhaps just as important it gives back to parents too – a break from the demands of having to constantly shield their kids from possible dangers. Once you have made the decision to send your kids to overnight camp we hope you will take that opportunity for yourselves and relax, and let us take over the ultimate responsibility of providing a safe, supportive, and enriching environment for your child.
Having said that, we know how hard it is for all of us, as parents, to switch gears and resist the temptation to influence your child’s each and every day of their summer camp experience. But resisting this temptation can be one of the greatest benefits to your child. Kids face challenges at summer camp. Each time they surmount a hurdle without relying on you they grow immensely. Please remember that campers can learn quickly to rely upon those around them at overnight camp (their friends and most importantly 200 mature role models) and, by so doing, your child will be far stronger emotionally, far more independent, resilient and happy. It’s true! A dose of self-reliance and independence is just about the best antidote around for the anxiety and stress that surrounds children these days. And it can all happen at overnight camp!
Remember that we share the same lofty goals for raising kids in these difficult times that you do. We wish to support you as parents, to partner with you, to build competent, compassionate and resilient children. At camp our goals for each and every camper are to be healthy – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Each camper is expected to make enduring and lasting friendships, develop independence, act in a respectful manner, behave unselfishly, appreciate the natural environment, learn new skills in arts, sports and outdoor adventure, gain a sense of self worth and community responsibility while developing self confidence and self esteem. Wow – all that in one summer? Overnight camp can be magical in many ways.
To achieve these lofty goals for your child the method that we use at our camp is not complicated: its ‘tech free’ and its interpersonal. It has the advantage of being reliable, virus free, and is proven to work better than any other solution. This works because it allows immediate and nurturing conversation between campers and between campers and staff. It is hands-on discovery and hands-on communication allowing for the magic of spontaneity. Something we value so highly at overnight camp.
Electronic technologies that exist in our world today – whether it is web photos, or ongoing communication of any nature, only feed our intrinsic need for instant gratification, and at a hefty price! It does not allow us as Camp Directors to spend time doing what we do best. Waiting a few days for a traditional letter gives parents and children time to reflect, and gives kids a chance to form new relationships, and navigate problems independently.
At Manitou, we don’t allow campers to use the phone, or email (unless from outside Ontario). Instead we help teach children how to solve their own problems. Being able to ask for help, communicate your needs and get support is an important life skill, one best learned by doing. Its one of the biggest reasons why your children come home from camp feeling so good about themselves. This only works because we have a very mature staff, one where historically over one third of them are college graduates! It only works because we have seven Camp Directors of parent age. And it only works because we have incredible systems in place and a pre-camp and city training process that is critical to our success.
Sending your child away to summer camp for the first time requires a leap of faith, a decision to entrust what is most precious in your life. It’s hard to do and we understand why; because we as parents are used to protecting our children from the outside world when, in fact, overnight camp’s real purpose is to expose them to the magic of what the world has to offer. Ironically if there ever was a need for camp, it’s now more than ever.