What the world could learn from summer camp

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

In the summer of 2008, Matthew Carroll decided to work as a counselor at a traditional American summer camp in upstate New York. The trip quickly turned into a journey of discovery. Having just finished college in his native country of Ireland only one week before, he thought a couple of months working in a camp would assist in his pursuit of avoiding the real world. It was exactly this mission that made him realize what the world could learn from summer camp.

1. Everyone is equal. At camp, Carroll noticed that the kids dressed the same as the counselors, counselors were dressed the same as kitchen staff, and office staff were dressed the same as the head counselors. You couldn't distinguish the kids whose parents had saved up for months to send their kids to camp from those who had spent the spare change of a week's pay.

2. Everyone is respected. While the campers and American counselors recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the international staff looked on in silence. Different faiths and different cultures were respected and tolerated. Coming from Northern Ireland this was not only a novelty, but something that impressed Carroll. People of all faiths were observing Jewish culture with respect, while back home in Northern Ireland, Christians struggle to tolerate the cultures of other Christians.

3. Camp went back to basics. Mobile phones were banned and Internet access was limited. A strong emphasis was put on keeping camp tidy, with everyone sharing in the task of keeping trash off the ground. Carroll was surprised to learn that the kids didn't seem to miss "the outside world." Bringing down the veil of technology led to more open conversation between friends, better networking and the development of new relationships.

4. Everyone was active and playing. Older kids played with younger kids, brothers played together, 21-year-olds challenged 8-year-olds to games of chess . . . and lost. Kids were able to play outside in a safe environment the way they used to.

So what can the world learn from camp? In short, to let kids be kids. According to Rodger Popkin, owner/director of Blue Star Camps and past national president for the American Camp Association, camp is a human relations laboratory - where people are encouraged to invent and re-invent themselves. The process of self-invention will involve all the building blocks necessary for a life based on self-knowledge, focused purpose, and a well-defined understanding of our personal place in the world.

About ACA

The American Camp Association (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards.