by Peg Smith, ACA Executive Director
I just received a call from Dayton’s camp director. As you can
imagine, my heart skipped a beat waiting to discover why I was getting
a call from the camp director. There was no problem, unlike the calls
I have received from school . . . ah, that’s another story. I digress.
No, nothing was wrong — rather, and more important, he called to
share something with me that was positive and an opportunity. I feel he
understands that he and I are partners in Dayton’s development.
It is critical to me, as a parent, that the other adults in the lives
of my children recognize our shared importance in the growth and development
of Dillon and Dayton and are accessible. Open communication with those
other adults is so essential to me. I don’t need to talk to Dayton
or invade the camp environment, but to know I have a direct link to the
adults who have assumed responsibility for Dayton is terribly important
I also find, as a parent, the camp experience legitimizes the importance
and value of positive experiential activities for people — particularly
children and youth. Camp professionals allow me to offer these vital developmental
opportunities to my child in a world that otherwise seems to want to promote
academics and conformance to some standardized norm. As a parent, I question
whether this lopsided adult version of childhood will actually result
in producing well-rounded, healthy, contributing adults.
Where do children have their mental, personal, emotional, and physical
needs nurtured? Where will they learn to get along with others, to take
safe risks, to deal with conflict in a constructive way that encourages
them to be creative, to explore and discover, to learn by actively doing,
to try — to fail and try again? As a parent, I need the support
of the camp community to legitimize what I intuitively understand as a
parent — to be a positive productive adult one needs the opportunity
to truly experience childhood . . . that is how one grows.
I listen to camp owners/directors talk about the plethora of behavior/mood
altering prescriptive drugs that children and youth bring to camp and
pray children are not being medicated through childhood. I am grateful
camp is a place where children and youth can run, jump, swim, climb, sing,
laugh, tumble, and romp about. I read the statistic from the National
Center for Health that tells us that 15 percent of our children from the
ages of six to nineteen are overweight — and rejoice that physical
activity, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles are a part of the camp experience.
I monitor the summaries of our Hot Line calls and groan at the number
of children and youth coming to our camps today who are cutting themselves.
At the same time, I hold onto hope that the camp environment will support
their emotional needs.
We do need to partner with parents. The children and youth of today
need the strength of our committed partnership. Day camps, resident camps,
conference centers, of all affiliations, need to reach out and give parents
the support they need to justify sending their children to camp. Camp
is an important thread in the fabric of child and youth development opportunities.
Let’s work with parents to weave a strong future.
Originally published in the 2004 September/October
issue of Camping Magazine.