How Summer Camp Should Inform School
Over the next couple of months, they will open up the musty storage sheds where they stacked the mattresses in mid-August. They will pull the canoes out to count and inspect even though the weather is not yet warm enough to spend much time on the lake before mid-morning. They will walk the docks with hammers ready to knock nails back into place after the Puck-like freezes and thaws that released them from their places. And they will paint—the dining hall, the gymnasium stage, the woodshop. They will face some ad hoc tasks too: pulling the bee hive from the under the eave of Cabin 8, evicting black widows from the softball field storage bin, rebuilding a lost cause stall door in the barn.
In the evenings they will be thinking about the people who are coming before the people who are coming have yet had much time to think about summer, and they will busy themselves making plans—for summer camp.
It has been many years now since I was the Program Director of a boys camp in western North Carolina and even more since I spent a year right after college working there during the off-season, and yet as the school year begins to turn toward its final stretch, my mind turns back once in a while to camp.
It has long been a guiding thought for me that the best of summer camp should inform schools. The best of summer camp includes: flexibility in scheduling—a willingness to break the routine when good learning and fun benefits from it, ample chances to laugh with others, myriad chances to try something new, time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, time to take care of the shared environment of the camp community (such communities don’t wait for someone else to clean up behind them). Most importantly, the best of summer camp includes the space—literally and figuratively—for young people to become both more independent and more empathetic. At a good camp one finds not only that there are things greater than oneself, but that one is a vital part of those greater things.
The best schools create an environment that allows for the same discovery.