My journey with camping goes back twenty years. As a student, a group of us waited in earnest for the year-end holidays to join with friends from across the province at a local campsite. Camp was fun and gave me time to re-connect with friends I hadn’t seen or talked to for a year. No cell phones back then.
My character, calling and knowledge of the Lord was mostly shaped by these camps. The exposure and experience in a different but safe environment, far removed from the noise, proved to be ‘rich soil’. The seed of holistic transformation of self could effectively take root and blossom into a big tree bearing fruit, bringing life to its surrounds.
So all these years later, do I still believe camping has great value for children and young people?
FUN, FRIENDS AND CHARACTER FORMING
Our environments shape us, one way or another. When that shaping forms someone into a permanent, and sometimes ill-fitting configuration, it’s difficult for them to ’break out’ unless they get out into a new environment.
Camp allows kids and teens to get out into an environment filled with others who see what is in front of them, rather than what they’ve been trained to see through years of false reinforcement.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that all environments besides campsites are toxic and unhealthy for young people. The point I am trying to convey is that our structured daily environments have the ability to turn us into ‘robots’, programmed to operate in pre-determined sequence. For example, a typical week would consist of a young person waking up at 5am, prepares for school, dad or mom drops them off and fetches them at 2pm, home work, family time etc. Their lives become a routine based on what is at home and school, there is little time to experience ‘out of the norm’. Yet life is much more than school and home!
Camping can bring the best out of people. In my years of camping, I have heard many young people say, “Wow! I never thought I could do that!”
The adventure involved on camp, coupled with a safe environment (less judgemental for the most), pushes people out their comfort zones and has the potential of bringing their best out, resulting in positive character formation.
I cannot overemphasize the obvious fun and valuable friendships that form on these camps. Some of these friendships last a life time, even leading to marriage.
MENTAL STIMULATION AND INDEPENDENCE
Even if you think your kids are the most independent in the neighbourhood, nothing brings out and tests that independence more than a time away on their own, away from family.
Without mom, dad or a familiar adult around, who inevitably makes all the decisions for them, children mature to making their own decisions. The call for responsibility naturally sets in, which can only be good for young people. Who is going to tell them to brush their teeth? Make the bed? At camp, they do it themselves!
I have seen so many parents cry tears before letting their kids go into the hands of camp leaders, often not understanding that their kids will not miss them until the end of camp.
I have watched parents come mid-camp to check on their son or daughter, who has been gone for 3 days, only to be met with the response, “Mom, I am fine, please go back!”
Camp allows children the opportunity to truly understand the thought process that goes into making a good decision, learning so much about themselves in the process. Children can also lean on peers for support, if they do need additional help.
There are a number of other life skills kids and teens can establish at camp, too.
- Team building teaches them team work
- An obstacle course allows them to build resilience and pushes them beyond comfort
- Group games instill in them the principle of appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, provoking the lesson that individual winning is not the ultimate.
- Kids and teens realise that there is greater good when things are done together.
- It is even better when groups are diverse (which should be done intentionally). This allows young people to appreciate each other regardless of their perceived differences. A key component of our national fabric.
BUILDING LEADERSHIP CAPACITY
I have watched over the years with unparalleled satisfaction kids attending camp at Grade four (10 years old), moving through to Grade eight where they become camp assistant leaders (work crew), and then finally onto camp leadership.
Some of these young people even join the ‘elite club’ of camp directors. Finally, while at University, some become camp planners. It’s truly a long journey through their formative and prime years. It is fulfilling to watch their leadership abilities and skills grow exponentially.
I would largely attribute this growth to tests of independence in the safe camping environment. I have watched so many timid and withdrawn kids come out of their shell and transform into fantastic leaders.
There is immense value in kids doing camp today, even more than before. The ‘gadget child’ needs to go out to the woods!