Two campers in a hammock

Why Summer Camp Matters Now More Than Ever

Our camp community is where we turn when times get tough. We call our oldest friends, we plan and attend virtual events, and we support our peers who are doing everything they can to make sure kids have a place to go this summer. We need these connections because nothing could have prepared us for life during a pandemic like COVID-19. From the fear and grief, to the uncertainty, isolation, and economic insecurity, the stressors we are facing are real and intense. As we look ahead to a summer in which we all aspire to return to some semblance of normalcy, camp will be needed more than ever because it can help us find our footing again.

Right now, time is moving slowly, one day runs into another, and kids may feel like they have nothing to look forward to. Their normal routines have been thrown out of whack and this can be extremely isolating. Camp facilitates the in-person connections that we all crave – especially now. It provides an opportunity to find joy during difficult times. Camps give everyone – staff and campers alike – a safe space to process and heal. 

In the midst of the unknown outlook for this summer, we love thinking about how the immense amount of work being put in to make camp happen safely this year could translate into such incredible happiness this summer. We love imagining kids walking into camp for the first time, seeing their friends, and feeling an overwhelming sense of connection. In some ways it will be unlike any other they’ve previously felt at camp.

Camps Build Resilience and Determination

woman with arm in the airRunning camp this summer, however different it may be from a normal summer, will be a lesson in resilience and determination. Camp directors are facing unprecedented challenges in preparing to adjust to a new reality, and are working together like never before to provide resources and support for their teams and each other. This resilience trickles down to staff and campers as lessons in how to adapt to the unexpected. Camp activities are full of practices that can be applied to life, and many camp alumni credit their camp experiences with giving them the tools to succeed as adults. The way we have rallied together to make camp happen during the summer after COVID-19 will surely make that list.

Camps Provide A Break from the News

Many of us are overwhelmed by the constant stream of pandemic-related news and updates. It feels like things are shifting every minute, and that there is no escape. Wherever we turn, there it is. Kids are picking up on this, they’re asking questions about how this will impact their lives, and parents and caregivers are struggling with which questions to answer and how to answer them. This summer, camps can provide a break from the stream of information, a safe space to grieve and process, and an opportunity for mental and emotional restoration. Many camps already limit access to technology, which will support their campers’ ability to connect with their immediate surroundings, while limiting intake of news and social media.

Camps are a Safe Place to Heal

girl with bubblesWe’ve already seen a number of conversations on camp forums about ways to make sure that campers feel safe in dealing with the new trauma induced by COVID-19. This season, camp staff and directors will have to prepare to help campers process these distressing emotions and experiences. As camps bring together so many young people with diverse experiences, they’ll be able to help everyone connect and unpack their experiences. 

For some campers, COVID-19 may have been a distant issue that was limited to upending their school year and sports activities. Others may have experienced it more acutely, feeling the direct impact of COVID-19 on their families or communities. Supporting this range of experiences will be challenging, there should be no doubt that camp staff members are well-positioned to help kids process their feelings. Camp is, and always has been, that safe place – and it will be a healing environment for a lot of campers in the summer of 2020.

Camps Help Us Regain a Sense of Normalcy

COVID-19 has taken away our routines, upended our schedules, and thrown our sense of normalcy out of whack. The good news is that, for children, camp provides a respite from the chaos in the form of familiar routines, activities, and traditions. Whether camp is a few days or six weeks, what won’t change are the daily activities that help give back a familiar and predictable routine. And to those reeling from a loss of order – whether they’re campers or staff members – the experience of camp this year will be like salve to a wounded spirit.

Even first-time campers will benefit from being surrounded by peers, adapting to a daily routine, and having their days filled with productive and fun activities. The social distancing orders created long stretches of unfilled time, leaving children hungry for creative and intellectually stimulating activities – a void that camp is exceptionally well-prepared to fill. 

Camps Foster Personal Connections

We’re all waking up to the reality every day that we can’t see our friends or go out in public for anything except essential needs. With school closings, kids are feeling a sense of social isolation, perhaps even more intensely than adults, because they are used to being surrounded by peers everyday. If camp is prepared to do anything this summer, it’s to reconnect people with their friends and mentors – and this includes campers, staff members, and leaders. Six feet of distance can feel like so much more, and video calls can’t replace the feeling of connecting face-to-face, a connection amplified by the bonds that camps create through shared experiences in unforgettable settings. These memories solidify connections and can last well beyond someone’s camp years, which will certainly be true of the 2020 camp season.

Camps Support Re-opening the Economy

In addition to how camp makes us feel, it is also a necessity for many families. Home schooling is already a challenge for those who are considered essential workers, and it is a privilege to have a job that allows for a work-from-home flexible schedule. For many families, camp is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have, and the prospect of a summer without camp means parents would be without their primary form of childcare.

As we look ahead to re-opening the economy, and sending adults back to work, it’s undeniable that camps will be a strategic vehicle in this process. Families need to feel confident that their kids are in physically and emotionally safe places – which camps are preparing to provide with an emphasis on camper health and safety – so that they can return to their regular schedules feeling confident that their children are being looked after. Not to mention the thousands of people employed by camps themselves, whose economic stability relies on as normal a season as possible. 

Camps are Restorative

cabin with a sign that says good timesAs each day passes, camp directors are faced with decisions and are making adjustments because we all know that there’s no better place to emerge from stay-at-home orders and to regain closeness than at camp. Timing and other logistics may change, but we believe that as we try to resume life as we know it, camps can lead the charge in giving the much-needed support and refuge we’re all yearning for amidst this crisis. 

This summer, camps will provide a service to the campers and to society at large. Camp is always important, but this summer we think it’s more essential than ever.