Wednesday, July 05, 2017

High Camp

On Monday, I wrote about my one and only experience with camp, which occurred more than 50 years ago at a place that, by anyone’s definition of camp (even day camp that probably cost $10 for the week, if that), was extraordinarily lame. We had more fun running through the sprinkler and lolling around playing Monopoly than we did at “my” camp.

It certainly wasn’t the overnight camp of my childhood imaginings. My fantasy camps had white wooden bunkhouses with dark green trim, surrounded by pine trees, overlooking a sapphire blue lake. In the center of the camp, there was a flagpole encircled by white stones. And petunias.

The girls who slept in those bunkhouses were from all over, but they were all smart, funny, and kind. (As if.) Everyone wore crisp navy or hunter green shorts and white blouses. And Keds. No PF Flyers need apply.

The counselors were pretty, cool and fun, and all the campers aspired to be one.

There was no end to the fun activities, and the shows the campers put on were of near-professional caliber.

Arts, crafts, and sports all went swimmingly. The food was good. (No creamed corn. No runny eggs.)

And the biggest excitement was when the cute boys from the nearby boys camp “borrowed” a canoe and snuck over one night.

After the campers sang the last teary chorus of “Hmm, mmm, I want to linger. Hmm, mmm, a little longer. Hmm, mmm a little longer with you,” everyone pinky swore to stay in touch, and lifetime friendships and pen pal relationships were forged. (The other girl always had a cute older brother.)

No one was ever homesick. No one ever cried.

Needless to say, even without the fantasy comparison, the camp I attended came up pretty short. As did, I expect, many of the camps of yore that I so avidly dreamed about.

Even the best camps of my era, however, were but nothing compared to what camp has to offer these days.

Take Camp Micha, in Maine, which offers:

A Ninja Warrior course modeled after the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show — and overseen by a real ninja warrior. For dinner, perhaps Dover sole in lemon butter sauce with jasmine rice. (Source: Boston Globe

Camp Micah is not, of course, alone. Think pasta bar. Think yoga. Forget the flagpole surrounded by white stones. Think “novelty chess set” in the courtyard.

“Things have evolved tremendously,” said Sudbury’s Robin Berman, an adviser with The Camp Experts, a company that matches children with overnight camps. “A lot of the changes are similar to the changes we see in schools. Things have become more demanding. Kids are involved in a lot more than they were in the 1980s.”

And, in comparison to the 1950s and 1960s, childhoods in the 1980s were over-programmed.

I did a spit take when I read:

“We’re living in an age of ‘VUCA’ — volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity,” said Moira Kelly, longtime executive director and president of EXPLO, a teacher-led educational summer program based in Norwood for elementary through high schoolers. At EXPLO, kids come from all over the world to, say, learn to think like doctors at a medical simulation center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital or create security devices made of Legos.

The spit take was not prompted by the opportunity for campers to learn to think like doctors or build security devices out of Legos. It’s Ms. Kelly’s invoking VUCA. I have a couple of clients in the leadership development “space”, and we’re all about VUCA. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve written something about VUCA, I could probably afford to spend a week at EXPLO.

The modern, VUCA-ized camp is facing a real VUCA challenge. Keeping the camp-ness in camping, while appealing to today’s discerning campers and the parents footing the hefty bill.

“The essence of camp, so powerful for generations and still true today, yet at the same time adjusting to today’s needs and expectations,” [Nat Saltonstall of Chestnut Hill’s Beaver Summer Camp] said.

His camp adjusts to those needs and expectations by offering:

…cooking classes where campers can make fresh pasta; instruction in circus arts; a race track for pedal carts with big balloon tires; and digital video activities using iPads.

Some of the parents quoted in the article expressed a wish that they could go to camp.

Not me.

No desire to learn the circus arts. Or cruise around a race track on a pedal cart.


I suppose these over the top camps would be preferable to the camp I attended for one brief boring week in July 1959. But I’d rather go to Camp Do Nothing, stocked with hammocks, books, board games, and plenty of unstructured hang around time. I suspect that same might be true for some modern campers in this age of VUCA. If only they were given the opportunity…

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