I remember one of the first times I took a group of kids hiking for Mountain Camp at Christmount in 2007, a camper looked at me as we were doing some plant identification and said: “I am never going to need to know the difference between a rhodedendron and a mountain laurel plant.”
And I think this is what parents feel when they are faced with the debate of sending their kid to summer camp.
What is my kid going to learn?
How is this going to help my kid get a college athletic or academic scholarship?
Well I am here to say: IT WON’T!
Summer camp is one of the best things we can provide our children in this ever changing world.
I have seen awesome things happen at camp.
I have seen kids who are completely dependent on their parents for everything become individuals who can actually handle daily tasks with ease, ON THEIR OWN!
I have seen kids who are shy beyond belief blossom into some of the most “popular” and well loved kids at camp.
I have seen kids who are afraid that their parents are going to find out how silly they act in a talent show skit, make me keel over in laughter.
I have seen kids who are the biggest pains in the neck become visions of the person that they are growing into.
I have seen kids who have such tortured home lives escape the hell, who, for just one week, get to live in a community of people who actually love them.
I have seen kids who are so far below the poverty line that they didn’t have anything to pack away for a week, show up to the camp dance looking like they had parents who were loaded.
I have seen kids who are normally the bully-type, the cool kid, the all-star, or anything else in that category welcome and guide a child whose autism controls their ability to interact with others.
I have seen kids when that lightbulb hits on what it is they feel called to doing with their lives.
I have seen kids in that moment when they realize that they are, in fact, completely and totally normal.
I have seen adults with learning disabilities become the star of the week who at their group home is just another client who has to take medication.
I have had a child explain to me the true meaning of communion at a vespers service.
And so on and so on.
And yet camping programs are struggling.
Year round schooling and the increasing intensity of childhood athletics and summer homework for classes in the fall have ripped children away from summer camps.
And not just sports day camps, but over night, stay away camps.
Camping programs struggle because year round schooling keeps the things the kids learned fresh in their minds, and keeps them out of trouble on the streets.
But all this really does is create more competition, create more dependency, and create kids who don’t know what its like to stay a week away from mom and dad until their first week of college.
Parents are sending their kids to more athletic practices, which only creates a person whose sense of the world is being better than the next.
It also creates memories, laughter, first-kisses, first time asking someone to dance, a place to not sit alone at meal times, relationships with other kids, relationships with adults who aren’t the child’s parents, and countless of other possibilities.
Camps are not just fun (although they are insanely fun), but camp is our largest and best educator in helping kids discover who they are, building self-esteem, building independence, and yes even learning a few educational things as well.
So why don’t we send our kids to camp?
And of course I have to ask this question: what if the church was more like camp?