I never attended a summer camp when I was younger. My little brother went to a summer camp that was specifically for young kids with diabetes, but my sisters and I never went to one. We always spent our summers with our grandparents, up in Michigan. I wouldn’t trade those summers biking for hours on end, fishing on the lake, swimming and eating ice cream on the beach, and going to antique shows for anything. But after working at a summer camp after graduating from college, I understand the attractiveness of sending your child to a camp. It helps them build skills, and exposes them to new things. And I feel like it is becoming more and more important for young children to have these experiences at earlier ages. Young girls and boys need a way to get out of the social media and the world of technology that they are growing up in, and learn the other important life skills like teamwork, accepting diversity, independence, leadership, bravery, and confidence. I especially feel like this is important for young girls, as we women continue to fight for our (and their) equal rights.
The camp I worked at was for 7 to 15-year-old girls and was located in the middle of a beautiful forest and on a gorgeous, pretty private, lake. What intrigued me the most about this camp was that they allowed no technology for campers, and staff weren’t even allowed to have their phones or anything out in front of the campers. Parents had limited communication with their children, relying on good, old fashioned snail mail to be the job done. Campers were expected to clean up after themselves, and make decisions about which activities they wanted to partake in, with little intervention by us counselors. I loved that the camp was a safe environment, a bubble almost, for these girls to learn some of life’s most important skills. These skills were numerous, but I’ve picked out a few that I believe are the most important for girls of that age.
During their first summer at camp, no matter their age, the girls are required to partake in an activity called camp craft. This is where they learn skills like building a fire, setting up a tent, canoeing, and campfire cooking. These are important skills for them to learn because as a cabin all of the ages go on a camping trip at some point during the summer. When these trips come along, someone is always naturally better at something than one of the other girls. They notice it and use it to their advantage by learning that teamwork sometimes means everyone working together through their strengths to reach a common goal.
At the beginning of each session, new counselors and campers are sorted into a tribe. Each tribe is represented by a different color of the rainbow, and is comprised of girls of all ages throughout the camp. This is to give the younger girls some mentors in the older girls, and to give the older girls a chance to learn how to show leadership through their actions. Every night the camp as a whole would partake in activities and sometimes these were sorted by tribe giving the girls a chance to play activities like capture the flag, and zombie tag with girls of all ages. This helped them build skills like sharing and including others.
This camp was diverse in so many ways and because of current events, I am really just now realizing how important this truly is. Being accepted and learning to accept all of the different individuals we had at camp is going to make these young girls even better citizens of the world. We had campers and counselors from all of the world. From the US to the UK, Germany to Australia and New Zealand. We had campers and counselors of all races, and ages. Many different religions and belief systems were present at camp. And we had campers and counselors from all socioeconomic areas. Learning to love one another despite our differences is going to help heal the current condition of our nation and that of the world.
While there were counselors like me at this camp, the girls were expected to grow more independent of us as the sessions went on when it came to daily activities like table jobs and cabin clean up. The first session I was this the oldest girls at camp, 15 and 16-year-olds. All of these girls had just completed their freshmen year of high school and most of them had been at camp for at least three years if not eight. These young ladies came in knowing what was expected of them and we were there to just check off that things were getting done and give them some assistance when they needed it. The second session I was working on the younger side of camp with 11-year-olds. Half of our cabin had been at camp for at least one year and the other half was there for the first time. That session I spent more time helping the girls learn how to be independent. My co-counselors and I helped them learn how to sort laundry, know what to bring in from the line, sweep, take care of things at the table during meals and etc. We also helped them learn to make their own decision about what activities they would like to take that week. Being able to clean up after themselves, do laundry, and make their own decisions are important life skills that these young ladies are learning to master as early as possible.
At the beginning of each session, the girls are given the opportunity to run for tribe leader. Tribe leaders are responsible for teaching the new campers tribe songs, organizing O’Naug (a weekly ceremony that has a message like loving yourself or friendship), and planning tribe day. This is a lot of responsibility for young girls to take on and I think that it is so important that we give them an accepting and safe environment for them to take on this responsibility. Because then, even if they fail, they learn that failure is natural and it is not something to shy away from. As I mentioned before, the tribes consist of campers of all ages. The same goes for the activities that the girls partake in throughout the summer. Each week they choose new activities and the group of girls that they are with changes as well. I see the importance of this for both the older and the younger campers. The younger girls are given mentors to look up to and learn from and the older girls are given the chance to learn about how their actions affect others.
Camp is not a very serious place. And that is something that I loved most about camp. Whether it was playing silly games during meals like “odds are,” or singing silly songs, or dressing up in ridiculous outfits, there was always something fun going on. Teaching the girls that you’re never too old to make a fool of yourself helps build their confidence. Seeing the camp director and the other adults at camp partake in these silly activities, I believe, helps the girls build confidence that they can be themselves and never feel ashamed of who they are.
But this confidence also holds to being held responsible for yourself. If something was found at camp with no name on it the camp director would stand in front of the dining hall and hold it up and describe it and the owner was expected to go up and grab it. Once the owner stood up, the whole hall would sing this silly song and everything was fine. No one was ever truly embarrassed by having to go up there and I believe that is because these girls had confidence in themselves.
I believe that confidence can be a byproduct of well supported and guided bravery. I’m not talking about blind bravery where you jump off a tall cliff into unknown waters. But I mean the bravery where you push yourself outside of your comfort zone a little. For the oldest girls in camp this happens the very first week of camp when they begin training for their camping trip, the Canadian. And yes they travel to Canada for the trip.
This is a 6 day canoe trip through the Canadian wilderness with one tripper, one counselor, and 6-8 girls. The campers are responsible for portaging their canoes and their bags when necessary, getting fires going, setting up their tents, and cooking. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, the trip goes on because you have to get to the pick up point at the right time on the last day. The girls I took on the Canadian during the first session, showed their bravery when we were stuck in tough weather and couldn’t fight the waves. Our group even got separated at one point and the girls kept it together until we could all be reunited. This instance even pushed myself and the tripper outside of our comfort zone, proving that you are never too old to learn.
My favorite experience with bravery was watching girls run for tribe leader. Because there is no age limit for tribe leader, even the youngest girls at camp could run. In order to run for tribe leader, the girls had to be nominated or volunteer. Then they had the opportunity to talk about what they wanted to accomplish and how they would go about being a tribe leader. Later that week they were given the opportunity to speak again, after being allowed to plan what they wanted to touch on. And then the tribe would vote. Watching the younger girls be brave enough to stand in front of their whole tribe, that included girls who were 16, was amazing. I really don’t think I ever would have been able to do that when I was little. But having this bravery sets these girls up for so many more opportunities that others will shy away from.
After spending my summer being amazed by these wonderful girls, I look back and think that maybe I learned even more than they did.