Why are people so
loyal to their sleep away camps? What exactly happens at camp that makes people
rhapsodize about the experience thirty or forty years later? Whenever I tell
people that I am curious about the camp experience, the stories start to pour
out. “I loved my camp,” they say in a dreamy voice.
What is it about the
summer camp experience — just a few weeks away for perhaps two or three seasons
— that goes so deep under their skin? As a psychologist, I am curious about the
mystery of camp. What’s the magic ingredient?
After a whole summer
of sitting in on campfires, cabin chats, and dining hall sing-alongs; after
laughing through a lot of silly campfire skits; after watching kids compete in
color wars and canoeing contests and stage first-rate productions of Broadway
musicals — I’m closer to an answer.
First, it is
absolutely magical for kids to be away from their parents. The sweetest, most
satisfying moments of childhood (think back to your own life) are almost always
when you are away from your parents. Children are suddenly free to face
challenges and accomplishments that are theirs alone — experiences that don’t
have to be run through the parental cognitive-ruminative-metabolic-judicial machinery.
relationship between campers and counselors is pure gold. The younger kids love
and admire the counselors, and that respect brings out the best in young
adults. They are at their most responsible, compassionate, and loving when they
are put in charge of younger children, and the younger children knock
themselves out trying to impress these young demi-gods.
Finally, if camps are
successful, they create a private world with its own rules and rituals and
magic. Deep down, all children want to have their own adventures with no
(apparent) safety net. Suburban life and school don’t provide children with
much of an arena for adventure or their imaginations. Camps have the ability to
create that world that belongs only to a child and his or her friends. Now that
Ph.D., is the coauthor of Raising Cain. He is presently writing a book about
camps and overnight school trips called Homesick and Happy and can be contacted
The American Camp Association® (ACA) is a national organization with more than
10,000 individual members and nearly 3,000 member camps. ACA is committed
to collaborating with those who believe in quality camp and outdoor experiences
for children, youth, and adults. ACA provides advocacy and evidence-based
education and professional development, and is the only national accrediting
body for the organized camp experience. ACA accredits approximately 2,400
diverse camps nationally. ACA-Accredited® Camps meet up to 300 health and
safety standards. Accreditation provides public evidence of a camp’s
commitment to the health, safety, and overall well-being of both campers and
staff. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.