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Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Place of the Comprehensive Summer Camp in the Education of Youngsters Today

This was an article published by Vincent/Curtis Educational Register in 1980. The author is John J. Leach, the father of John and Dave who currently own and run the camp. This paper is almost 30 years old, but many of the messages still hold true. Enjoy!

Part III

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, an author and teacher who wrote “Spearpoint”, tells of her experiences with urban and suburban American youngsters after teaching in the “out back” country of New Zealand. She writes of the “over stimulation” of many American youngsters today being bombarded with startling sounds, startling music, startling visuals, startling films and startling experiences while they are still trying to discover themselves in the chaos of our large culture and for which they do not have the background, training, nor maturity to accept. The well organized summer camp teachers campers from “inward-out”,- from the camper himself to his small group of cabin mates or tent mates to the camps as a whole and then to his culture. The good camp program should be designed to satisfy the basic needs of youngsters to capture a quiet, calm mastery of themselves, then of their environment and learning tools. The skilled camp leader recognizes that a fine camping experience in the laboratory of the great out-of-doors where “learning by doing” and learning by example under the strong moral leadership of honest, sincere, dedicated, courteous, and sensitive counselors is the order of a 24 hour day. Youngsters often reflect the “pressures” that beset them at home or in school and the parents should consider the unnumbered advantages of having their children enjoy the vast, silent, tranquil forest environment, with wildlife varied and abundant, with streams running clear and pure, and the air fresh and nourishing. The environment as described will produce a feeling of “inner-peace” within the camper who experiences it for an extended period of time.

A liberal theologian once described his most important role as “not that of getting his parishioners into heaven, but getting heaven into his parishioners”. If a camping experience is to develop good characteristics in a camper, it must be done subtly. Character can’t be forced or legislated. If, however, it is planted and nurtured in the right climate, it will grow. How successfully a camp can do this job determines how good camp is.

The comprehensive summer camp must be enjoyable and fun for all, and yet interwoven into those happy and carefree summer days must be a purposeful plan of constructive and directed activity that produces so many worthwhile results. It is sometimes likened unto a physician’s sugar-coated pill. The coating of sugar is fun, the romance of the forest, the canoe and mountain trips and all of the activities that youngsters of different age levels love to do. Underneath the coating of sugar is the “brown-part” of the pill. It is the responsibility of the camp to see that the pill is “swallowed” and that each ingredient of the pill is assimilated with the effect that each youngster leaves camps a little richer and a little finer in all respects that when he entered. As was pointed out earlier, this writer has never subscribed to the very short camp sessions because the results of the assimilation of the “pill” cannot be accomplished in one or two weeks.

The well-organized comprehensive camp has a minimum of heavy regimentation and/or nerve-wracking competition; rather it provides the opportunity, within reasonable limits, for growth and development based on individual needs. The opportunities permit and encourage “educatastrophies” or happy discoveries that illuminate life. The system avoids the Prussian method of cultivation as Theodore Roszak calls it; “Bulldoze the terrain flat, sock in a powerful herbicide so nothing alien takes root and only then plant your potatoes in uniform rows exactly two and a half feet apart. Now you can be sure that you harvest will be safe, containing nothing more than you planted. Run some tests…yes, they’re spuds all right. Not a surprise in the bunch and all the same size too.” The good camp uses another method of cultivation campers. It practices reverence for the peculiarities of the terrain. It nurtures the maverick vocation in each of us and does not uproot traces of intuitive growth. “Keep this outcrop of rocks here and that clump of dwarf pines there; don’t know what this stuff is here, but save some of it and plant around the rest. All the expectations may not be fulfilled, but some happy surprises are bound to result.”

The camper in a good camp learns to adapt to the minimum number of rules and learns to live with, respect, and depend on his fellow campers. Another criteria which parents should consider in selecting a camp for their youngsters is the number of repeat campers who return to the same camp for two or more years. Lifelong friendships are made at camps where youngsters meet their camp mates in a crucible far different than from their everyday school life. A high rate of return of campers is an important and valuable plus for the camp that can document this attribute. The writer is aware that all things old are not necessarily good nor all things new necessarily poor, however, there is a definite advantage to a camper who chooses a camp with several years of successful experience. Each camp has many unique strengths and to spend a summer at a time proven camp is to experience a time tested tradition of living, learning, and enjoying.

When youngsters reach young adulthood and their days of attending camp are behind them, the characteristics of independence, resourcefulness, self-reliance, self-confidence, enthusiasm, respect, tolerance, loyalty, and honesty should have been ingrained into the individual make up. These characteristics will be the basis for forming each adult into the type of citizen who will lead a fulfilling, productive and contributing life in our society. The camping skills learned at a good comprehensive summer camp will provide the adult with the basis for participation in one of the fastest growing individual and family recreation activities which is worldwide in scope and is limited only by the imagination and the daring of the participant. Individual and family camping can be a life can be a lifetime activity and each year new innovations and products are marketed to make the life of the camper more enjoyable and more comfortable. Although practically every country provides organization and camping areas, more are being built each year to encourage more people to take part in this wholesome and educational activity.

The late Senator Everett Dirkson one wrote, “Life is a matter of development or decay; you either grow or you retrogress; there is no standing still; you go backward or forward. The challenges will make you grow, if you are willing to assert a leadership and look on the challenge as something to be met and disposed of.”

There is no part of our entire educational system that has a better capability of preparing youngsters to have the confidence and willingness to accept the challenges of life than the comprehensive summer camp.
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