One of the phrases I sometimes use to describe the experience of camp is to say it’s “fun that matters.” The idea is that camp is certainly fun, filled with exciting activities, thrilling adventures, and plenty of silliness, but it’s also educational in the best sense of the word. In addition to all the colorful crafts, tennis and tetherball, horseback riding, ziplining, and playing in the lake, for example, the girls at camp are learning and growing in important ways. Camp is not just entertainment, or a brief diversion, like a trip to an amusement park or watching a movie. It means so much more to the children who experience it. To them, camp is profound; it matters, so much in fact, that they yearn to return each summer.
It’s an interesting question to ask, therefore, how camp matters. If it matters because it’s educational, how is it educational and what are these camp kids learning (while they’re having fun)?
There are so many great answers to this question. Over the years I’ve written about camp life fostering core aspects of who we are as human beings, helping children become more creative, more courageous, more compassionate. I’ve said camp helps kids develop critical “life skills,” becoming better decision makers, communicators, collaborative team members. Watch out because camp kids are going to be confident and capable. They’re going to be excellent friends, more joyful than not, and kind to most everyone they meet. Camp teaches all this and more.
We could say, I believe, that girls love camp because it provides all these opportunities for personal growth. In other words, girls love camp not just because it’s fun, but because they’re also learning! Obviously, they wouldn’t put it like that. If you asked, they’d talk about laughing their heads off with their friends rather than the social and emotional skills they’re exercising in that moment. But I think there’s something to this idea. Yes, camp is fun, but Rockbrook girls love camp because the fun here makes a difference in their personal development.
My other theory about why kids love camp, namely that it satisfies critical childhood needs, aligns with this idea. Maybe nowadays children are having difficulty learning these lessons because modern education can’t adequately teach them about the joys of being silly, the role of compromise in a thriving community, or inspire confidence in them to tackle new challenges, to name a few examples common at camp. I wonder if focusing heavily on (academic, athletic, artistic, etc.) achievement limits what most educational systems are really teaching, and if so, our children need more than just school. They have unmet needs, and unfortunately, can feel uneasy as a result. When something can relieve this uneasiness and fulfill these unmet childhood development needs, it’ bound to feel really good. And since camp life does exactly that, since it’s “a place where they feel the most at ease,” kids love it.
This is how the fun of camp matters. It provides a special kind of learning that’s ordinarily hard to find, and that once fulfilled, makes campers feel the “happiest they’ve ever been.”
If this all makes sense, then it tells us how to help girls love their camp experience. Interestingly, you don’t do that by adding more activity options, toys at the lake, or other “amenities” at camp. Of course all of that is an important context for life at camp, for the fun of what we do and where we do it each day. But no, you inspire a love for camp by making whatever we’re doing more meaningful, more thoroughly tied to satisfying those core human development needs. Instead, do what you can to remove their uneasiness. Help girls feel they belong. Prove to them they are stronger than they think. Show them that kindness, caring and generosity form the roots of true friendship. Give them daily chances to collaborate, to create, to be silly and free from judgment. It helps to feed them a freshly baked muffin every morning and the occasional ice cream cone, but you see what I mean.
Everyday we’re having a lot of fun at Rockbrook, but it’s more than that because something more meaningful sticks with the girls. It’s fun that helps them grow and makes them feel really good too. They love this tight-knit community and their place among the friends around them. Camp is a fun experience that really does matter. And it’s my regular joy to be a part of it.