Camp has always been such a powerful experience for me. The friendships, skill development, opportunities to lead and overall feeling of belonging is life-changing for a child (and for the staff as well).
I spent over 17 years of my life working at camps in both Canada and the USA. Ten of those years were as a camp director running arts and leadership camps. I found that the combination of the arts (music, dance, theatre & art) and leadership skill development, were a unique combination for young people. The growth mindset and life skills that my campers learned was unparalleled. They were truly stepping into their own and figuring out who they were and what they wanted to be in the world. It was magical!
Actually it was my experiences running arts and leadership programming in a camp environment that inspired me to write my book, The Artistic Edge.
Over the years I have come to identify some key take-aways from my years as a summer camp director and I wanted to share them with you.
Lesson #1: TAKE POSITIVE RISKS
Camp has always been a place to try new things. The good camps are so skilled in encouraging campers to step out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves to take healthy risks. This is a vitally important skill for young people as the world is full of challenges, so having the safe environment of camp in which to practice taking risks is a key component in a child’s development.
Lesson #2: DO WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO
So many children discover their passions while at camp and it ignites a spark in them that lets their true self shine. They exude a happiness which becomes infectious. Some of my fondest memories are of doing what I loved at camp and they actually became a part of my career as an adult.
Lesson #3: PUT YOUR PHONES AWAY
So many people are addicted to their technology, but the reality is, if you are always checking for texts and Facebook updates you are not present in the moment. You could be missing out on a valuable conversation or opportunity because you are distracted. Camps have always promoted the value of face-to-face communication which is vitally important to the successful growth and development of our young people.
Lesson #4: WHO YOU SPEND TIME WITH IS WHO YOU BECOME
This is one of my favourite quotes. It is from business guru, Dr. Nido Qubein, who says we often tend to emulate those we spend the most time with, so if you are surrounding yourself with friends who are lazy and unmotivated, that is often who you start to act like. Camp promotes positivity, kindness, helping others and so many other important character traits. Parents often report that their children are coming home more happy, confident and eager to take on more challenges. The role models kids have access to in a camp environment are vitally important to their growth.
Lesson #5: WE ALL WANT TO BELONG
I’ll never forget the first time I felt a very strong sense of belonging within a peer group. It was the summer of 1999 and I was staff at Camp Encore/Coda, a music camp in Maine, USA. I still remember thinking how special my group of friends were – so kind, fun, supportive and inclusive.
Since that summer I always thought that all kids had to know what that felt like. I think that was a large part of my inspiration to start my own arts camps – to give that sense of belonging to other children. So I did it, for 10 years. It shaped who they were and who they were going to become as adults. People will always seek out to belong to something – positive or negative. Let’s focus on giving our kids a positive sense of belonging. The impact is life-changing.
Lesson #6: ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
A positive mindset is key to a successful and happy life. Camp gives kids the opportunity to overcome obstacles and to know that anything is possible. Whether it is completing a swim badge, starring in the camp musical or winning the camp-wide tennis tournament, the good camps instil the viewpoint that anything is possible.
One of the most meaningful experiences in my entire camping career was when a 14-year camper said in front of the entire leadership group that I taught him to believe that anything is possible in his life. This was a kid who had everything stacked against him in life. So I knew that I was doing something right when he shared his thoughts with all of us.
Camp is so much more than sports, waterfront, arts & crafts and campfires. It is providing young people with a set of values and skills that is helping to shape who they will become as adults – that is the true impact of camp.
As the camp season is now upon us and parents are starting to search for the right camp for their child, I hope you will look for a camp that teaches these lessons. Look for a place that is safe and that is accredited by your local camp association. Focus on camps where the staff role model ideal behaviour and where the viewpoint of the program is to help kids become the best version of themselves!
Wishing all the campers and staff a magical and meaningful 2018 summer camp season.
Lisa Phillips was a Camp Director for 10 years working with thousands of children and youth. She now focuses on arts advocacy, consulting, and creating arts & leadership resources for educators and youth development professionals.