The Power of Camp… What Wekeela Means to Me – by Harrison Ross

Please Enjoy our Guest Blog by Harrison Ross Camper 2014-2019, staff 2020-present 

In today’s world, when parents think of ways they can keep their child growing and learning once school is out for the summer, they may think of signing their child up for an SAT prep class or extra summer class. But there’s another option that may not seem as productive at first glance, but can actually be very vital for the rest of a child’s life. You guessed it, I’m talking about sending your child to sleepaway camp. Although some people may think sleepaway camp has nothing more to offer than smore’s and cabins, sleepaway camp actually helps children grow as people and develop skills they can use throughout college and the rest of their lives.

Although every parent hopes to give their children every skill they need for life, one skill they cannot give them is independence. And as an author, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and former board member of the American Camp Association Michael Thompson puts it, “The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out (qtd. By Michael Thompson from Clydesdale).  When a child is put in a sleepaway camp, they are away from their immediate caretakers and have to learn how to do things for themselves. For example, they don’t have the help of Mom or Dad to clean up after them 24/7. And as a former camper for 6 years, I can tell you that there will not be someone to clean up your mess, you have to learn to do it for yourself. Sure you will have the counselors there to help teach the kids how to keep their space tidy, but it’s the camper’s responsibility to keep their space tidy. Since a camper is sharing a room with other campers, they are forced to learn to do their part and keep their own space clean. Doing simple tasks such as learning to keep your space tidy is teaching children to be reliant on themselves to get things done, therefore developing independence. Although those simple tasks may seem simple, they could just be the foundation for a kid’s independence, which is one quality children need when it’s time to move to college. 

On top of gaining independence, sleepaway camps also help kid’s grow confidence, which is a skill that is useful in every aspect of life. From giving a speech in English class to interviewing for a job, confidence is a quality that every child has the power to unlock, and camp can help children unlock it. When a camper attends camp, they do a lot of things that may seem silly such as cheering or performing at the campfire, etc. And when that camper receives that positive and supportive feedback from their counselors and bunkmates, it tells them that they should be proud of themselves for stepping out of their comfort zone and doing that spontaneous thing, which then starts the process of gaining confidence. And according to the same survey from the ACA, “70% of parents reported their children were ‘“different”’ because they had gained more self-confidence or self-esteem by going to camp” (Henderson). Since I have been a camp counselor for two years, I have seen my own campers gain confidence at camp. For example, I had this one camper that was very shy at the beginning of camp, and throughout the summer our cabin would scream silly chants in the dining hall. Initially, my camper was very hesitant to join in on our chants, but by the end of the summer, he was leading those chants! And after my camper broke the ice of doing those silly chants, he started to become a leader when it came to other activities like planning our lip sync battles. As you can see, the sleepaway camp provides children with another very important quality we all need, confidence. 

Once a camper has gained confidence and independence, they can use both of those strengths to help start their journey of finding a very important thing: their identity! According to family physiologist Michael Ungar, “…camps offer kids a chance to feel like they belong. All those goofy chants and team songs, the sense of common purpose and attachment to the identity that camps promote go a long way to offering children a sense of being rooted” (Ungar). Even the oldest campers at camp might not have their identity figured out, maybe also the counselors! And that is okay, but what camp can do for children is give them opportunities that can set children on a path to finding out what kind of person they are. Sleepaway camp expert Posie Taylor claims that ‘“Children away from home…learn much about themselves, such as their own strengths and abilities (qtd. by Posie Taylor from Wallace). For example, the sleepaway camp I attended and now work for does a lot of evening activities that could be a scavenger hunt a lip sync battle, and a campfire. One scavenger hunt we had was called bear hunt where we have to hunt down counselors dressed up as bears. This activity gives campers the opportunity to show leadership and work together. On top of many leadership opportunities, the camp also has so many activities such as sailing, rock climbing, arts and crafts, many different types of activities that campers can do that will reveal their strengths and weaknesses. A camper could become the next big artist because they discovered their love for art while they were drawing a picture of the lake! A camper trying out for the camp musical may discover they love acting! The biggest thing sleepaway camps can offer is opportunity. Opportunities that can set children on a path to finding out who they are and what kind of person they choose to be! 

The ability to problem-solve is a skill that any human needs in life. Whether it is solving a problem you are having with a friend or collaborating with a coworker to solve a problem at work, problem-solving skills are critical in every aspect of life. When living at a sleepaway camp for multiple weeks, campers are faced with my problems. Such as cleaning their bunk space or trying to accomplish an activity like building a fire. According to family psychologist Michael Ungar, “Camps help children feel in control of their lives, and… children who experience themselves as competent will be better problem-solvers in new situations long after their laundry is cleaned and the smell of the campfire forgotten” (Ungar). Michael Ungar emphasizes that the activities at sleepaway camps make kids feel knowledgeable and capable. And once a child feels capable of accomplishing something, they develop problem-solving skills. But like anything in life, you start at level one. Children have to take baby steps when it comes to developing those problem-solving skills. Starting with baby tasks like learning how to tidy your bunk area each morning. This task can become a foundational problem-solving skill that every human needs for life. And when it comes to problem-solving skills, collaboration and teamwork are skills that camp teaches to the campers. At first glance, a parent might not realize how many things at camp their child may need to collaborate with others on, building teamwork. A common example is building campfires. And when it comes to problem-solving with other people, kids will also be forced to learn how to problem-solve with adults. Michael Ungar highlights that campers make “New relationships, not just with peers, but with trusted adults other than their parents (Ungar). He explains that the ability to “negotiate on your own with an adult” is a very important skill kids can use for the rest of their lives. (Ungar). Whether they like it or not, a child will have to learn to talk to and problem-solve with their adult counselors because they are their caretakers at camp, their guides at the camp. And once kids learn how to communicate and problem-solve with adults, they are ahead of the game with a special skill that they will use in college, work, and in everyday life.

Sleepaway camps help kids develop skills they will need and use for the rest of their lives. We have talked about the different ways sleepaway camps give children independence, confidence, problem-solving skills, and help find their identity and what kind of person they are. But as we have talked about, camp can offer just about every foundational skill a kid needs if they want to be successful for life. Sure sending your child to SAT prep and signing them up for summer school might help them in the short run of their academic career, but sleepaway camps offer something you cannot read or test, it offers kids real-life skills: skills they will use throughout college and the rest of their entire lives. So the next time you think about sending your child to sleepaway camp, your child might just come back to you a lot more experienced…

Harrison Ross is a former camper and 3rd year counselor at Wekeela, he is from Davie, Florida and just finished his first year at the University of Alabama