Did you know that a four week Kamaji camper spends 648 hours at camp during a summertime?  And an eight week camper spends 1320 hours at Kamaji?  And during the off-season those same Kamaji campers spend about 1260 hours at school?  Who would have ever guessed??

For better or worse, for most campers – regardless of where they go to camp –  the academic school year is stretched over 9+ months; summer camp is, at best, anywhere from a week to 8 weeks. And yet so much learning takes place at camp . . . maybe not in “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” but – in my opinion – an equally invaluable education as that which takes place in a desk-ordered, teacher-led, textbook-driven classroom.

Okay, Okay – I’ll admit my description of a school classroom may be a bit harsh but imagine my dismay when I read the following article – How to Spend a Productive Summer – written for high school students and offering advice on preparing for college admissions.

Unless you are a focused athlete and you are attending a sports camp, sleepaway camp and camping trips should end before the summer preceding ninth grade. The only exception to this rule is if a student has the opportunity to take on a leadership role such as a CIT (counselor in training), and even then, the summer before ninth grade should be the last year at camp. Colleges are not looking for experts in the arts of s’more-making and spin the bottle!

Obviously whoever wrote that “sage” advice never went to camp. . .or on a Pine Manor Canadian Canoe Trip!!  “The art of s’more- making and spin the bottle”?? How can someone who clearly has never realized the gift of camp generalize and trivialize the value – the educational value – of summer camp??!!

In search of expert opinion to support my case for the educational value of summer camp, I came across an article entitled Why Camp?.  Authored  by Andy Pritikin (owner and director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Columbus, NJ and board member of the American Camp Association of which Camp Kamaji is a member)  I took the liberty of liberally excerpting, paraphrasing and repurposing Why Camp? and offer the following:

1.    In today’s world, kids often struggle in a clock-driven, “made over,” adult-oriented world where they are “fast tracked” to adulthood . . . where they are pre-programmed from sunrise to sundown.   Think about it: between the hours spent in school and extracurricular activities, participating in sports and attending to homework, studying and research projects, our children put in a longer “work” day than most American adults!!

Childhood should not be a dress rehearsal for adulthood.  Whatever happened to letting kids be kids?   Where is the time to simply “hang out” with friends or even family?  Truth-be-told, society makes it challenging for (a lot of over-stressed, over-programmed) kids to become the kind of well-adjusted adults we really want them to become.  Camp can be is an oasis by providing a safe, relaxing, playful environment for children free from pressures they have during the school year.  Camp can be is a place where kids can forget about the worries of everyday life and live simple, uncomplicated, child-friendly, child-centered lives that make more sense than their over-scheduled ones at home and school.

2.    Summer camp offers creative and athletic activities which keep the brain and body working at peak performance.   The group setting and activities of camp provide a real-life, hands-on, experiential classroom where kids and young adults learn the skills of developing relationships and making friends, negotiation, compromise, conflict resolution, cooperation, self-advocacy, group teamwork and decision-making.  Kids explore and learn new activities.  Supervised by trained staff within a safe, structured, positive, child-centered and fun(!) environment, kids at camp are respected, trusted, encouraged, praised and loved, valued and inspired.

3.    Camp is real . . . and it’s magical.  It is a place where children are inspired to believe that anything is possible and that their potential is limitless.

4.    Camp provides a safe environment for children to attempt risks, fail, try again, and succeed!! All without the fear of a failing grade or embarrassment or “academically imposed tracking”.

5.    At home  parents (with only the best of intentions) micromanage their kids from getting them up in the morning to making their beds, from cooking and cleaning up after them to chauffeuring  them from place-to-place, from helping them with their homework to running interference when things don’t go their way.  At camp, where  mom and dad are not around to act as a safety net,  kids are empowered to make their own decisions – decisions that directly impact them, that have consequences. . .  Kids love camp – because they get to feel like grown-ups.  And campers actually do grow up  –  little-by-little, day-by-day.

6.    At camp everyone has the same stuff:  a T-shirt, a pair of tennis shoes, a bathing suit, a flashlight, a sleeping bag . . . and little else.  (Okay maybe Kamaji campers pack a little more!!)  Judged solely by their behavior rather than by things of superficial value, kids learn things of real value – personal responsibility, independence, self-confidence, respect, social awareness, and cheerfulness:  skills  sought after by both fine colleges and future employers – life skills needed to become a happy, successful adult.

7.    Camp not only brings out the best in a person, it brings out the “real” person.  It peels back all the layers that everyday life adds and reveals a camper’s true identity.

Okay, I could go on . . . and on (as well those of you who know me know I can!!) but I’ll get off my soapbox now.  However, before I do I would ask the author of the list of  Summer Don’ts for College-Bound High School Students:  Have you ever met anyone who has gone to summer camp?  Ever listen to them go on and on about that amazing counselor, or their close “camp friends” that they still speak to years later? Ever read an essay by a Kamaji Pine Manor camper who has canoed into the horizon of a dawning sun, lugged canoes and backpacks across portages with mud-up-to-her-hips and laughed about it, set up tents in a whirlwind of  flapping nylon in the advent of a summer thunderstorm and then curled up in a sleeping bag as the lightening flashes white-and-orange over Canadian lakes?

Have you ever felt so alive, so empowered, so together with campers – friends and peers – and counselors and trip leader – mentors and role models –  forming a bond of unified strength, courage and love. Have you ever instilled in those who undertook the challenge of a lifetime at 15 years of age (as rising high school sophomores) “the inspiration and confidence to chase down their dreams and ride them out?”

For you without this experience, it must sound quite strange – as obviously you think “camp” is just a bunch of kids and counselors running around playing games (like Spin the Bottle) and making s’mores?  But if you talk to any camper, camp parent, camp counselor, camp director, you’ll be told endless stories filled with memories and life-altering experiences.    Truly camp is one of those things in life that, unless you’ve lived  it, you cannot even begin to appreciate its impact.

That said, I respectfully urge you – author of the Summer Don’ts –  DO GO TO CAMP!!

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