Creating an Intentional Summer Camp Community: The Power of the “Warm and Fuzzy”

Campers running during special event

In 2010 Everwood Day Camp was founded, and as former overnight camp directors, we knew the task of creating a camp community from scratch needed to be carefully considered, and intentionally driven. We were faced with many decisions, and some situations that were a bit unique to us. We knew we were only going to have our staff and campers on our facility for 7 hours a day, not 24 hours.

So, in order to create a integrated and focused summer camp community, we had to do something powerful. We had to do something great, it had be consistent, and it had to be something that our campers and counselors were accountable for each and every day. Focused on 21st Century Life Skills, our mission and philosophy were clear, but how would we communicate this mission to our kids and our staff?

Let the Children Play!

Girls in studio

I have some incredibly vivid memories of a 7 year old me, riding my “BigWheel” down the street to my friend’s house, ready to do something that few kids seem to do these days… PLAY!!  For hours, my friends and I would play games and engage in complex pretend play schemes involving some pretty intense use of imagination.   I’m wondering how many kids out there today really have the opportunity to engage in sustained unstructured play, 2-3 hours at a time?

This past winter we had over 40 inches of snowfall in the Boston area, yet in my neighborhood with school aged children in most every house- I did not see one snowman. So there I was shoveling my driveway outside, while all the children in our neighborhood were inside watching TV, playing video games, on the internet, or texting.

In the book “The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children”, author David Elkin outlines how childhood traditions are going the way of the dinosaur- Hop scotch, hide and seek, and games we played as kids are being forgotten. At Everwood Day Camp, activities include playground games like Ga-Ga (a form of dodgeball) and 4-Square…and kids (and grown-ups) LOVE them.  Why?  Honestly because so many kids have never, ever played them before!

Our modern society limits play for our children.  According to our friend, Best Selling Author, consulting Psychologist, and ACA Board Member- Michael Thompson, PhD, reasons for this include:

  • The loss of social capital that modern children have
  • The loss of true neighborhoods in which neighbors actually know each other’s names
  • The loss of time- In some schools, Recess is limited to 20 minutes per day. Physical Education is on a two-week rotation with Computers, Spanish, Art and Health. And forget about AFTER-school- with hours of homework, sports practice, music lessons, karate, dance- when is there even TIME to play?
  • The need to be a GREAT parent (including over-scheduling kids), and ambition/homework (see Wendy Mogul’s, Blessings of a B Minus).
  • Many parents have irrational fears that their kids will get snatched outside- According to Lenore Skenzay, author of Free-Range Kids, statistics show that the world is actually a whole lot safer than it was back when we were kids.
  • Another threat to free play is organized sports- Just because children play sports, doesn’t mean they know how to PLAY (or eventually work) with one another, and it contributes to the average child spending 101 minutes being driven around from place to place each day!

The 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study on SCREEN TIME shows that children age 8-18 years old spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes devoted to screen time each day. This translates to an average of more than 53 hours per week!

In many ways, Summer Camp has become the  antidote to modern society. Summer Camp is a step back in time- no cell phones or video games- where social networking involves actually speaking to people face to face, and being someone’s friend is much more than an online acquaintance.  Campers come to places like Everwood Day Camp so that parents know they are safe, and so kids can flourish learning the real-life, 21st Century Skills that go beyond the academic standards, like: Creativity, Collaboration, Responsibility, Leadership, Critical Thinking, Communication, Adaptability, Flexibility, and what it means to be a Good Friend. Places like Everwood Day Camp create an extraordinary world that inspires children to believe that anything is possible, and that their potential is limitless.