Unplug and Engage: How a Summer Camp Can Change Your Life

A great way to hang this summer: Camp Canaan, set on a 100-acre island in the Catawba River near Fort Mill, is packed with activities but its core philosophy is to help kids overcome fears, challenge themselves and grow as individuals.

 

By Nick Wimmer, Founder of Camp Canaan

There are few places in our modern world where you cannot get a good cell signal or connect to Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, our kids don't know a world without YouTube, Google and i-Phones. Summer camps allows them to escape to a technology-free environment to connect with fellow campers and their counselors. So what happens in a summer camp setting that can actually help shape and change our kids life?

1.  Braving the Elements

When I was a kid my Mom would lock the front door of our house and tell us to go play outside until dinner time. Climbing trees, riding bikes through the neighborhood or swimming in the lake were how I spent my childhood afternoons. No a-days it's a rarity to see kids playing outside. "It's too hot," "There are bugs out there," or my favorite, "I think I'm allergic to outside" are all excuses I've heard kids come up with here at Camp Canaan. But being outside forces us to use our senses, take in the beauty and the adventure of the world around us. Sure, summers are hot in the Carolinas and yes, there are bugs and creepy, slithering animals to encounter — but aren't there always going to be things in life that we don't like? The poet, Henry David Thoreau said, "I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees." At most summer camps like at Camp Canaan, kids are introduced to an outdoor life day in and day out. It's through these experiences that kids learn and grow and become captivated by the wild beauty of our world. When you take away the conveniences in life and put a camper in a more "challenging" environment, it's amazing what incredible things develop within them.

2. Drop the Defenses

Going to a summer camp can be really overwhelming for some kids. There are hundreds of campers that you don't know, crazy counselors who seem overexcited and plus your away from home, parents and friends. Being alone can be intimidating but it's also an incredible opportunity to overcome fears and reservations and to develop the social skills required function and thrive in this world. Here at Canaan we've worked hard to create day camp and cabin life environments that promote a positive, inclusive atmosphere — not a "clique" that ostracizes campers.

When considering summer camps, make sure that the camp you choose has two critical elements that can help create this learning opportunity for your child:

  • They have well-trained staff that prioritizes the safety of each child
  • They have policies that allow for healthy competition but do not leave a child out

Training staff to have the interest of the child always on their mind can be hard to do. That's why we spend countless hours each year interviewing and hiring the BEST staff we possible can. The child's safety means their physical safety of course but we also consider their emotional, social and spiritual well being. It's the counselor's job to facilitate programs and create an environment that campers trust, feel safe in and feel included. It's okay to have activities and games that are challenging and even competitive – but not at the risk of a child feeling left out.

3. Programs with Purpose

Creating and running programs with a purpose has been a major theme at Camp Canaan for the past 10 years. We are very candid with prospective summer camp parents when they ask about the activities and adventure trips we run. We explain that activities are not the most important aspect of camp life. Yes, they're fun and are definitely what the campers are excited about but that isn't the main reason why we run camp. Being 70 feet in the air on a zipline or kayaking down the Catawba River are incredibly fun but these examples are just the "what" and "how" we do what we do. We are more interested in the "why". The "why" deals with the essential ingredients to a positive change in a person's life. What is their motivation? Why are they here? What is their unique value and purpose? And how can we create opportunities using our exciting programs to get down deeper at these elements in a camper's life and talk about things like purpose, their gifts and talents, hardship, loss, faith, friendship and many other real-life issues that kids face everyday? Be sure to find a camp that has carefully designed their program offerings with a deeper purpose in mind that seeks to get at the "why" of these issues and not just another amusement park of options.

4. Lifetime Memories

For those of us who grew up going to camp, we all have a story or two that has stuck with us over the years. I can remember kids names and hilarious or deeply emotional situations from my summers at camp in such a vivid way. I believe that it's because being outdoors, meeting new people, the smells and sounds of camp life — these are some of the sweetest memories we have deposited in our memory banks. There aren't any distractions when you're at camp — no homework, no chores (except for cabin clean-up competition); kids are taking some of their first steps of independence and responsibility. 

I've heard countless stories of adults who have kept in touch with friends they met at camp over 40 years ago! Stories about kids that had their first crush at camp and ended up getting married to their "camp crush" later on in life. Camp not only creates relationships and incredible memories but also equips campers and even counselors for life by providing the elements of challenge, responsibility, social interaction and so many other life-skills.

What if creating lasting, meaningful change in a person's life was really that simple? What if a summer camp experience could offer all of this and so much more? Sounds incredible, right? Understandably, camp isn't for everyone — sometimes it's not the right fit or maybe it's not the right time for a particular child. But for most kids a summer camp experience is the perfect environment for them to thrive and grow. As parents, we want to offer our kids the best opportunities in their young lives that we possibly can. Let's make sure that summer camp is on that list for them... you won't regret it!