Summer camp is one of the few places that allows kids to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.
Summer camps are a fun, safe place for kids to explore the world around them and build long-lasting memories, which can’t be done if they spend the day checking social media or texting their friends. Camp directors have prepared for this, but report they do not often have issues with kids trying to use tech devices during camp.
“Every summer, there are maybe a handful of occasions where a camper will try to hang onto their phone, and if that happens, we’ll take it, hang on to it, and give it back at the end of the session. But really, they’re not typically using it,” said Billy Rankin, Director of Operations for the YMCA’s Camp Chingachgook on Lake George.
According to Colin Stewart, director of Camp Scully in North Greenbush, there just isn’t any time for a camper to sit and check Facebook or text friends. He said he doesn’t often encounter a camper trying to use a phone at camp, but more of what he runs into is a camper who misses their electronics and looks forward to having them back at home. “And I would argue that’s healthy. They’re learning to cope and deal without it,” he said.
Often kids are attached to their phones to keep in contact with friends. At summer camp there is a variety of kids that wouldn’t necessarily be in the same friend groups, but away from home and technological distractions, campers broaden their friend base.
“When you have millionaires, and kids who were in foster care and who were in a refugee camp in the last year, all living in the same cabins, eating at the same dinner tables, the ultimate skill they learn is to be independent thinkers and put themselves in the shoes of their neighbors, their fellow man,” Rankin said. He added that campers learn to consider and respect the thoughts, perspectives, and experiences of others all while doing camp activities.
Campers often learn a lot and develop skills that they’ll take with them throughout life. “I hear more and more from employers that finding someone with, say, the appropriate computer programming skills is not difficult. But finding someone with computer programming skills and communication skills, problem solving, and skills in other areas is really hard,” said Stewart.
At Camp Scully, Stewart and his staff teach life-skills through a variety of activities. The kids are positioned for success.
Dan Yacobellis, of Tamakoce Wilderness Programs in Grafton, agrees.
Kids today live fast-paced, highly-structured lives with very little time outside to play. The chance to “unplug” and fully engage all the senses is a unique experience for most modern kids, and has many benefits for mind, body, and spirit such as reducing stress and anxiety, enhancing social interactions, and improving fitness levels. Nature also pushes kids in skill and character development because it is unpredictable, responsive, and sometimes risky.
“I think the thing that stands out for me the most is a resiliency that comes from stepping out of your comfort zones, pushing your edges and realizing that you’re capable of doing a lot more than you knew,” said Yacobellis. “By the time they have finished one session, they are different. A little taller, stronger, more confident and more at ease with adversity.”
Depending on the age and mood of the group, kids may find themselves making a fire from materials found in the forest, building shelters, tracking animal paw prints, exploring a labyrinth of trails, gathering and preparing wild edibles, or simply playing freely in the best playground ever.
Renee Lannacone whose son Noah participated in a Tamakoce camp, said the camp was a natural fit for her family. Noah loved how camp ended with an overnight in the woods.
“Noah was so proud to have woken up before the others and head out to do some tracking on his own. Hearing him talk about the morning; the silence, the light, the smell of the leaves…that was his ‘perfect moment.’”
Billy Rankin and Camp Chingachgook also help campers build a skill set to handle everyday challenges.
“We use the skills they learn from activities, the goal setting, working through a challenge, the progression from something maybe they weren’t very good at to start and get better, and we apply that metaphorically to other things,” Rankin said.
Kids will come across many challenges in life, but the resiliency and problem solving built from camp activities teaches kids to be able to handle these challenges. “It’s character traits that we try to teach. Archery, the ropes course, the climbing wall, they’re all just a mechanism to teach that,” said Rankin.
Summer camps get kids to detox from the technology that can dominate nearly every aspect of life. Campers are outdoors, away from technology, getting lots of great exercise, and creating lifelong skills and memories.
Stewart says kids disconnecting from electronics is not difficult, and the meaningfulness around the camp experience is not lost on today’s generation.
Rankin felt similarly. “These are times they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Alumni who come back and see the lake, the islands, the cabins—and they could have been here decades ago—still talk about this as some of the happiest times of their lives.”