Chances are you, the reader, have some sort of extracurricular activity lined up over summer. Whether it is an internship, a research project, volunteering, or simply getting a head start on college applications, you or someone you know have turned summer into an investment in your future. This is an admirable aspiration, but one largely born from societal pressure. The increased competition in college admissions and the job market have turned adolescent summers from discovering yourself to discovering the cure to cancer. Summer camp exists in the center of this Venn diagram, and I’ll tell you why.

Getting to Know Yourself

Spending time in a strange environment and adapting to people and situations one may or may not be familiar with bring reflection. Campers learn about themselves and their limits out in the wilderness. You don’t know how you react to a situation until it is thrust upon you, and camp is the purest environment to do so. There is a perfect mix of being confronted with new experiences in a safe and structured place.  Campers act without influence of their friends and family back home. There is no parental supervision or support. Campers are on their own and they come into their own. Many reinvent themselves away from home, choosing new names or even new personality traits. At camp, kids get to discover who they are and who they want to be.

Disclaimer: This is not something reserved for ages 8-13. Speaking from a strategic standpoint, “knowing you” is especially important for young adults. College essays, mature decisions (like what you are going to do FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE), and personal growth all require self-awareness.

Secondary Skills

“Secondary skills” is counselorspeak for “the things learned at camp that are applicable to the world as a whole.” Every program a camper goes through is designed to instill particular traits within them. For example, archery instills courage in the individual shooting the arrow, which grows into confidence she/he will have interacting with people and making their own decisions. Many camps have camper planning, where kids direct the activities of their stay. This forces campers to democratically decide what they want out of their camp experience, teaching them negotiation skills and how to make choices independently.

This goes without mention to the less metaphorical skills like swimming, performing, socializing effectively, and decision making.  These, combined with the responsibility and self-assurance gained through living and interacting with a group of peers 24/7, create a camper who is ready to take on the world.

Relationship Building

As campers are taken out of their comfort zone and forced to interact with the same people every day, growing and learning with together, they bond quickly and easily. In a week, someone can find their new BFF, or at least someone they trust on a level separate than any relationship back home.

Allison Plotnik, a fellow editorial intern, has made many friends at camp. “I have made many friendships at camp that I can imagine will be life long. Many of the people I met at camp go to school with me, and the friendships carry over to school. These are people I most likely would not have picked out as my friends because they are very different than me, but I am so glad camp pushed us together and forced us to get to know each other. Many camp friends live in my town but don’t go to school with me, which makes our camp get-togethers the highlight of my week. There is a connection I have with these people that I do not have with anyone else, and that makes them my favorite people to spend time with.”

Camp Spirit

Whether a camp is in the woods or the city, focuses on the arts or high adventure, there is a camraderie that comes with being surrounded by people with a common purpose. At camp, kids can pursue their passions and are in an ideal situation to do so: completely supported by staff and their peers.

Josette Marsh has musical take on the camp atmosphere. “When I started going to music camp, I found myself in an incredibly accepting, supportive environment. For the first time, I was able to sit on the floor of my dorm room with four other girls and geek out about Tchaikovsky as we blasted his fifth symphony at top volume. For the first time, I learned that there were people who loved chamber music repertoire, Gustavo Dudamel, and the euphoric rush that came after a successful concert as much as I did. Music camp not only allowed for me to grow in the realm of my instrument, it created this we-got-you-bro environment that I look forward to returning to every year.”

Memories (Woo!)

Camp gives kids a chance to let loose and be independent in a world that forces us to grow up at a fast pace. Distancing yourself from technology and societal pressures to hang out with awesome people in the middle of a forest makes for totally rad adventures and experiences. Nowhere but camp will you get to know yourself and others in such a down-to-earth manner, doing things you never would have thought possible on “the outside.” When it comes down to it, campers don’t necessarily remember each activity of every day, but instead the friendships and experience they gained. In short, camp is only place in the world where you can still act and have fun like the kid you are while gaining skills to last you a lifetime.

Have any camp experiences you’d like to share?  Let us know in the comments below.

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