How Camp Wekeela Teaches Life Lessons & Values Everyday
Summer camp is a unique experience for young people. It may be the first time a child (or staff member) is away from their home and family for a long period of time surrounded by strangers. Any person may be nervous about this daunting prospect. Texting, online shopping, and social media have created a generation of children and young adults that, studies show, are or can be uncomfortable speaking on the phone with a stranger and have hard times interacting with others outside of their comfort zones. For a child to go to camp takes a lot of courage. However, there is arguably no greater confidence booster and growth opportunity than what summer camp at Camp Wekeela provides to our community. Yes, camp is all about having fun, making friends, and trying something new, but the undertones and life lessons that the Wekeela experience can teach our campers is monumental in their growth, independence, and self-confidence, among others. At Camp Wekeela for Boys and Girls, we spend each summer giving our staff the tools to build our camper’s up, not tear them down. We empower our campers to make smart choices in regards to their meals, their activity offerings, and their friendships. We teach our children empathy, compassion, and a respect for others. The Wekeela community practices gratitude by nominating each other during Line Ups or by participating in activities like “Thank a Brother/Sister” during Rituals. Your bunk becomes your family and knowing that you have each other’s backs is an important part of creating valuable friendships.
Below, find a few things we do at Camp Wekeela that seem small, but simultaneously teach our campers important life lessons or values during their summer at Camp Wekeela:
Rituals: Each night in every bunk, to put closure on the day, campers and staff will gather in their bunk for Rituals. Rituals like Thank a Brother/Sister, Rock & Rose, etc. are valuable exercises to teach our campers Gratitude and Recognition. Rituals can be different in every bunk, but certain ones like Thank a Brother/Sister are simple enough to give anonymous recognition to another. For example, Max may say out loud “I’d like to Thank a Brother (another bunkmate or counselor) for sitting and talking to me today when I was really homesick, but this brother made me feel a lot better.” The anonymous recognition allows both Max to practice gratitude and the “Brother” who helped him to feel recognized for a good deed. Another ritual like Rock & Rose allows campers to speak freely about their life and have others recognize and listen to them without judgement. Allowing children to speak their mind, share thanks, and recognize others goes such a long way in their peronsal development.
Nominations: At each morning and evening Line-Ups, campers and staff practice Nominations to recognize others in a public setting. Whereas Thank a Brother/Sister may be anonymous and personal to the cabin, Nominations are in front of the entire camp. Being nominated is a wonderful feeling for our campers and an honor when they get to stand up and raise or lower the Flag during Line-Up. For example, Sarah can nominate Olivia for overcoming a fear of heights and climbing to the top of the climbing wall for the first time, or David nominating another bunkmate Jake for helping him with his chore during Cabin Clean-Up. This practice of recognition is so empowering and positive for children and allows the campers to feel good about recognizing friends, and the positive environment that surrounds them cheers them on.
Activity choices teach empowerment: Scheduling at Wekeela is done in a hybrid way, meaning that campers are scheduled for specific activity areas with their bunks and choose the activity they’d like to participate in that period. For example, our bunk will be scheduled for Landsports, and within that area, we are given the choice of what activity to do: basketball, soccer, baseball, fitness, etc. At Camp Wekeela, we find that this blend really allows our campers the chance to make their own conscious decisions about what they enjoy doing, while also providing the chance to try something new. Our scheduling allows the campers to have a mix of structure and choice simultaneously, allowing them the best of both worlds.
Seating in the dining hall: This may seem simple, but one of the biggest stresses of school cafeterias is seating. At Camp Wekeela, we want every child to know that they belong and have a place to sit. We sit every meal by bunk, meaning that no camper ever has to search for friends to sit with. This practice teaches our campers the important lesson that everyone belongs and has a place, no matter what. We are proud of having over 30 States and 25 countries represented at Camp Wekeela each summer and giving our campers the peace of mind to have a place to sit every meal is fundamentally important to our camp culture.
Swapping FaceTime for eye-contact: Allowing zero electronics and cell phones enable our campers and staff to participate in real conversations and create meaningful friendships. For all the positives that technology has brought into our lives, it can also be an isolating and pressuring tool for children at young ages to use. Swapping out a cell phone for face-to-face conversation is very rare in today’s world, even for adults. Allowing children the opportunity to create solid friendships, play sports or cards, and sing songs without any technology around is refreshing and rewarding for our campers.
While we know that our time with our campers is short each summer, we hope that the values that they learn or practice during their time at Wekeela is brought back to their home and school at the end of summer. Practicing gratitude, empathy, compassion, recognition and support of and for others are so vital to the camp experience. We hope that our time over the summer can help our campers learn and practice these qualities so that they can go back into the world – and change it – for the better!