by Matthew Smith
“Notes on Camp” is one of my favorites episodes of the NPR show This American Life. That’s probably not surprising since I run a leadership camp for teens. Host Ira Glass explains the purpose of the program:
Today on our program, we try to bridge the gap between camp people and non-camp people. We try to understand: What is the cult-like, mystical connection some people feel with their summer camps?
He asks David, a popular camp counselor, a sophomore in college, and a former camper to explain:
“Camp … it’s just … it’s #1 with everything I do I guess. That’s like … camp is just … it’s … it’s kind of ridiculous but it’s, like, everything. It … it changes people’s lives. Like … people base their life around camp. Like … I would not be who I am if it wasn’t for camp.”
Apparently, camp can be tough to explain. Sometimes, people compare it to magic. But Scott Brody, veteran camp owner thinks “It is time to retire ‘the magic of camp.’”
Scott has been traveling the country for the past few years, driving home this message. “Calling it ‘magic’ devalues the importance of creating an intentional experience for children, and alienates parents who have never experienced camp.”
Ok; but then what is it? While there are all sorts of camps focusing on various fun activities and skills, what makes them special are the relationships and skills that campers acquire. They learn social emotional skills and character development.
Camp is social and emotional learning (SEL) and character development.
Put simply, SEL means developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Character adds performance and ethical values to the mix. Things like perseverance and integrity.
This. Is. Camp.