August 26, 2013

We have reached the end of another summer season. I have watched the Facebook posts of those who are leaving camp to go back to school, home, or another job. Each post is overflowing with mixed feelings of both sadness and hope. The songs, words, and prose abound with memories embedded deep within the recesses of the emotional memory muscles.

What has been learned and shared over what accumulatively may seem like nanoseconds in time will repeatedly resurface during the forthcoming years, having a profound impact on future experiences that will draw from these moments. Ellen Gannett inferred such influence in her recent blog post when she wrote about Willis Bright’s ideas on navigational and interpretive skills. As Willis suggests, those skills actually serve as a moral compass, often for life.

Yet, why does this happen? I have often suggested it is the intensity and density of the camp experience. Yet, that is short-hand for something much richer. Why do kids have such a  visceral reaction to the camp experience — one that often is rarely replicated anywhere else in their lives? Or why do kids reveal to others during a camp experience a side of them (even their fears or life torments) when they have not done so anywhere else?

In an NPR radio story on August 8, 2013, “Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic . . . and Respect,” I believe we gain insight into our own phenomenon. As it has been suggested, we know where kids go to receive “academic equipment,” but where are the places they go to receive critical social and emotional readiness equipment? And maybe even more importantly, what happens to the functionality of the academic equipment if the social and emotional equipment has been neglected?

I believe the camp experience provides what many have called a “sacred space.” A space where kids can find authentic adult mentors who are accessible — one cannot share one’s feelings if time is not provided or someone is not prepared to listen. A space where words are used to “name” feelings and emotions, giving kids “emotional literacy” — feelings cannot be expressed, verbally, if one is not familiar with the words or is not exposed to others who know how to use such words constructively.

Finally, a quality camp experience understands and emulates justice and friendship; such attributes create a space that nurtures trust. When we trust others, we often put them in high regard — we respect them. I believe respect is the engine that ensures the social and emotional equipment is working — even through difficult times.

Photo courtesy of Camp Skyline, Mentone, Alabama