The Camp Experience
20 years as a camp professional seems like a long time to our counselors who are in their early twenties! But, believe it or not, the camp experience hasn’t changed as much as you’d think since I started working at summer camp in Florida when I was 15.
Defining The Camp Experience
My definition: “the camp experience” is a unique atmosphere created around and for balanced and mindful child development, in all of its aspects - physical, social, emotional. The residential element of the program emphasises the importance of collective well-being. Camp integrates recreation as a learning tool.
What’s changed in camping since my first summer as a junior counselor at Camp Indian Springs in 1998? Not as much as you’d think. The best counselors all have exactly the same values at heart as 20 years ago. Super counselor is that guy or gal who is always upbeat, who builds campers' confidence, and who exudes positive energy and good-will towards others. Super counselor’s mission? Build a child-centered atmosphere that reinforces the importance of collective interest and teamwork - all while having fun with it.
The major changes in camping that I have witnessed impact largely the camp director and administration. I’ve seen and heard many different camp managers discuss a variety of hurdles and complications in the organization of a residential or daily camp program. Over the last 10 years as an administrator in France, part of my job is taking all these challenges into account whilst trying to preserve the quality of the childcare program at hand.
For example, today, many parents are used to having a direct line with their child at all times via cellphone. Some will not sign up their child if they cannot reach him regularly. But maintaining that direct link is not conducive to a successful residential program with an emphasis on building friendships and collective living. In the late 90s and early 2000s, we managed this link by integrating letter writing as a major component of camper down-time. My American campers and their parents communicated exclusively through the post! Nowadays, that just isn't fast enough for many parents.
As adults, we often feel like things are constantly changing around us and we hear talk of an ever-widening “generational gap”. Nonetheless, I have come to believe that children have changed less than you would think. Their basic needs, instincts and desires are relatively unchanging.
Developmental stages influence youth behavior in a variety of ways. Each society provides a multitude of ways to interpret behavior. As childcare professionals, we have to stay on our toes to decipher how our campers’ actions – inherently influenced by their current society and culture - are linked to their most basic developmental needs.
Let’s go back to my earlier example about cellphone use. If a child insists on getting his or her cellphone back - to the point of crying - is it cellphone addiction, as some would lead us to believe? Or is this frustration an expression something deeper - like a need to feel connected, or unease about new surroundings? If the camper feels lonely, could the idea of having his phone be comforting? If he is having a hard time making friends, does the camper suspect that it could provide him with a way to fit in with his peers?
Quality childcare still relies upon understanding youths' basic needs, so as to attempt to best respond to delicate situations like this one.
These are only a few short examples from my experience. In my opinion, times change but the camp experience continues to serve youth and provide a unique and fulfilling work experience for people across the globe, at American Village Camps or elsewhere!