In today’s society, the concept of camp can often seem foreign to families so dialed in to the hustle and bustle of our electronic and pre-programmed fast paced world of immediate gratification. We, as a society have become far too oriented to thinking that the “30 minute session” can teach, fix or solve any of life’s issues and that if we do not keep on providing a wide variety of enrichment experiences, our children are somehow going to fall behind their peers and be destined to a life of mediocrity.
Yet, many of the most important lessons in life cannot be taught in 30 minute segments periodically through the week or learned in rigidly structured recreational experiences. Furthermore, all too often we assume that many of life’s most important lessons will naturally be internalized through normal life experience. This may have been true 20 years ago, but clearly there has been a change in society due to our immersion into an electronic age. A new isolationism has inhibited the natural development of many critical life skills and a new generation of our children are being denied exposure to fundamental social experiences that would otherwise provide valuable skills leading to more productive personal and professional lives.
The Case For Camp #1 Electronic Overload
We live in a world in which smart phones, tablet computers, laptops and PC have been fully integrated into nearly all aspects of our lives. While these resources have brought instantaneous information and communications capabilities into our society, we are more isolated than ever. The art of communications has been streamlined and now requires an electronic facilitator/ intermediary that has eliminated much of the non-verbal qualities of conversation. The outcome of this phenomenon is that the skill of interpreting non-verbal language and social cues has taken a back seat to technology and the expedience of instant connectivity.
The camp experience can provide an environment in which the overwhelming presence of the electronic world in our lives can be dialed back. In a traditional camp setting, children are exposed to a community devoid of electronic communications and entertainment. Children are immersed in an environment structured and less-structured (yet always supervised) in which they are required to interact with their peers in a social setting. Problem solving within a social community, conversations over meals and exposure to both verbal and non-verbal communication are integral aspects of the daily camp experience. Children actually play without the help or support of electronic devices! At first, this concept can be frightening to children and adults, but in effect, the electronics are not missed once the routines of camp are established and social activities fill the day. We are social creatures and when brought back to basics, children crave the opportunity to be a part of a healthy social community. Furthermore, the communication skills and social growth from exposure to a healthy community that children gain at camp pay off time and time again in school, in the neighborhood and as they transition into post-secondary programs. Speaking in public, self-advocacy skills, social confidence, interpretation of body language and social cues, collaborative problem solving, flexibility in social situations and many other skills are a natural byproduct of living in a healthy camp community.
It takes time to establish these social and communications skills as well as for children to gain a sense of comfort and trust in a social environment. 30 minutes, three hours or even three days won’t provide a necessary length of time for these skills to develop. The internalization of these communication and social skills requires a prolonged immersion into a social community and the longer a camper is in the camp environment the more productive their experience will be. When our society begins to look at the development of communication and social skills like we look at the development of athletic or artistic skills, then we will be bestowing the appropriate level of respect on these critical elements of a successful life.