If you missed Part 1, read it here.
I hear great stories about camp experiences all the time. When I visit churches, talk with staff, or spend time with retreat groups, a great story is never far away. As I’ve progressed as a camp professional, adding stories to my collection, it’s become clear that great camp stories usually involve a few of the same elements: adversity, challenge, and community. Rarely is a good story told that doesn’t involve those, and the reason is simple. A great story is only told about a great camp experience, and a great camp experience, believe it or not, needs a healthy dose of adversity, challenge, and community. The fact that we tell stories years or decades after the camp experience is not just because they’re good stories, but because they are stories about how we became who we are.
What makes this even better is that some really intelligent people have spent entire careers trying to understand why these stories stick with us. Significant research has gone into trying to understand the value of a camp experience. And much has come of it. Books of scholarly articles place camp at the top of the list for the development of self-esteem, fairness, justice, caring, honesty, leadership, trustworthiness, and more. Terms like ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ are being coined to describe new intangible skills for children that directly correlate with success later in life. These are my favorite; I’ve seen the value in my own life and I credit camp with their development in me. Grit is overcoming adverse situations, facing challenges of all types, and developing a healthy persistence. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after failure or setbacks. Remember Part 1? That story, just like many of the great stories people share with me, is a story full of grit and resilience.
One of the foundational benefits of camp is that the experience provides a community for campers to learn these intangible character traits for themselves. Psychologists and child development specialists highlight the ability to communicate socially without a screen, connect with nature, overcome adverse situations, solve problems, and identity development as benefits that camp provides. Camp’s impact on these fronts is heightened because the pressures of home (parents, guardians, teachers, peers they know or that know them) have been removed. It’s similar to a live-fire military exercise; the environment is controlled, but the interactions and engagement of campers is authentic. This knowledge isn’t new; but we’re starting to understand the value of camp in providing these benefits. Opportunities for independent social exploration and character development are becoming more rare. Camp is increasingly becoming the only space for these things to happen for many children.
At camp, we watch children formulate and experiment with their identity and social performance; they wrestle with who they are as individuals and who they want to be without having parents around. What’s even better is that this experimentation occurs in the safe backdrop of a Christian community. I’ve watched countless campers transform immediately after they’re dropped off for a week of camp. Sometimes, they transform again the moment their parent shows up at the end of the week. They’ve had an experience of trying on a new persona, or being a little different than they are at home, without any real consequences. That’s healthy. I’ve also seen countless campers maintain this transformation because camp has finally allowed them to be genuine without being judged, and they return home to school and church as different people. Countless parents call and express gratitude at their child’s newfound confidence, problem-solving skills, or desire to express altruism by helping around the house.
This is why we camp. Don’t get me wrong: camp is fun. At NaCoMe we believe fun is foundational. But building on that foundation is the belief in the immeasurable value of giving a child the ability to face adversity and challenges, to develop grit and resilience, and to learn about who they are and who God is calling them to be in an authentic Christian community. It’s why camp beats Disney World or the beach or the lake or staying home. It’s the magic of camp, and why a great camp experience is so valuable.
I hope to share the magic of a great camp experience with your children this summer,
-Ryan “Flash” Moore, Assistant Director