The other day I was chatting with a fellow adult about movies from the last few decades, particularly which movies were ripe for a reboot (no, Spiderman was not even mentioned). Surprisingly my friend blurted out “Meatballs”! If anyone missed it the first time, Meatballs was a 1979 Bill Murray vehicle about wacky summer camp shenanigans and, according to my friend, was a seminal film about a seminal experience – summer camp. My response was somewhat incredulous, as I never really thought of summer camp as being such an essential right-of-passage type experience – more like something you were signed up for by your beleaguered parents. After an unscientific and informal survey, it seems I am wrong. Camp is all that.
Seems I was attending the wrong camps all along. This is not to say that I didn’t have fun while learning archery, boating, and various long-forgotten camp songs, but it just didn’t shape me as it obviously did others. According to a recent Huffington Post article, of the 12,000 camps that exist across the United States, 7,000 of those are overnight camps where children (and the teens and young twenty-somethings who work with them) have a chance to develop bonds and intangible skills that go far beyond learning to play soccer or canoe. This means millions of children are venturing out into “the wild” each summer and continuing on with a tradition that dates back more than a century. According to the American Camping Association, the three reasons that parents most frequently cite for why they send their kids to camps are that camps “build self-confidence and self-esteem,” provide “a safe environment” and allow their children to “build social skills and make friends.”
So what are the true benefits of camping? Sure kids learn about nature, tradition, and all the verses of “five little speckled frogs,” but they also learn about risk taking, socialization with a variety of people, new forms of creativity, maintaining healthy activity levels, and how to be a responsible teenager (by example from the camp counselors). Did you go to summer camp when you were a kid? What are your enduring memories of camp – the good times, the bad times, the embarrassment? Is camp an essential childhood experience?