Where the Internet Ends: What Camp Teaches 21st Century Kids

April 23, 2013

Guest post by Mary Rogers

A few years ago, someone asked me how camp could possibly still be relevant for children in the 21st century. As a camp professional, the answers seemed so obvious that I had to really think how to explain why camp experiences are even more important for children today.

To explain why camp is still so important for children I would tell the story of one summer day at Sherwood Forest not so long ago.

It was the day of the Boat Regatta in Boys Camp and there were only two rules: Each boat had to be piloted by one camper, and the boats could be made of any found items except an actual boat or boat part. Groups of boys worked together to build their boats. Duct tape, cardboard, styrofoam, a fifty-five-gallon trash can, bits of old wood, a child’s wading pool, gallon milk jugs, milk crates, and binder’s twine were just some of the items used to make the boats. Creativity and cooperation, along with a fierce sense of ownership by the boys, were the order of the day. Counselors and program staff were pushed to the background by the boys, and were of help only in pointing out the location of materials or tools.

At the end of that day, the boat that won the race was made by the youngest group of boys. It was the simplest design possible. Their boat was made of layers of cardboard and styrofoam, two long boards, and what seemed like miles of duct tape to hold everything together. The boards served as stabilizers in the front and back. The pilot of this boat sat in the middle wearing his lifejacket and a grin from ear to ear. He navigated with a kayak paddle and was only minimally hampered by the need to keep his strokes short so as not to hit the stabilizers sticking out from either side in front and back.

When the older boys got over their disappointment of not winning with their more complicated boat designs, they congratulated the boys in the youngest group on their win.

How many times in children’s lives today do they truly get to be masters of their own destinies? How often do adults step aside and let them figure things out for themselves? When was the last time in your neighborhood you have seen a group of kids “making” something out of found items with no adult leading the process?

Think of the 21st century skills that came into play as the day of the Boat Regatta unfolded. Creativity, cooperation, communication, and problem solving were the skills that our boys put to best use that day.

And that is why I can’t think of any better place for learning and growth than summer camp or any experience more important and more relevant for today’s children.

Mary Rogers is the executive director at Sherwood Forest Camp. She attended Sherwood Forest as a camper and has spent every summer at camp, in different roles, ever since. Mary is a longtime ACA member and has served in various volunteer roles at local, regional, and national levels. She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.