Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Summer Camp Experience is a Gift of Love - Choose Wisely!

It's 10:00 a.m. In my office sits my first client, Mrs. Hanley. She is very concerned about her son Kevin and describes the problem as follows: "Kevin can't sit still for a moment. He doesn't seem to enjoy any of the many activities he's involved in-he's always asking, 'What's next mom, I'm bored, what are we doing after this?'"
Mrs. Hanley seems to be frustrated and very unsure of what to do with Kevin. She explains to me, "We try to keep Kevin busy. He goes to school much of the day; he has soccer practice on Monday; on Wednesday he has a math tutor; on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons he takes Karate lessons; on Saturday he has his soccer game and on Sunday he goes to religious school. I try to leave Fridays open for free time or appointments such as doctor, dentist, etc. He never seems content with what he's doing at the moment. He is always on to the next thing. Now summer is around the corner and I can't imagine what I'll do with him for three months."
Does this discussion sound familiar? There are so many choices for children today; how do we make the best use of time? Isn't that a concern for all of us? Do we choose summer activities that provide academic enrichment? Do we select a variety of activities in weekly intervals or bimonthly intervals? Do we provide a camp experience that shuttles our child each day to a different activity, thereby promising a high interest level (but running the risk that our children may become spoon-fed passive receptors having "click on-click off" experiences)? What is the most valuable summer experience for a child in today's high-tech world? What factors should influence our choices for spending our children's time and our money?
As a therapist working in the field of stress management and anxiety reduction, it is my feeling that children who operate nine months of the year within the constraints of structured time for lessons, school, religion, academic assistance, team sports, and family time most certainly need to have a summer "fun" experience which ensures anxiety reduction and stress reduction. Children need to learn the value of "down time" and delayed gratification while building self-confidence and skills.
Perhaps we need to provide a way for children to cultivate their spiritual nature…a way for them to use all of their senses. Perhaps it is our responsibility to provide a summer experience, if we are able, in which our children become proactive in their environment, conservators of their rural places and participants in the discovery of science and nature-a hands-on experience with traditional values such as honesty, integrity, respect for others and teamwork. A setting that offers the chance to be an active participant in an environment endowed with flora and fauna provides children an opportunity to be in harmony with nature.
In our culture, the "busy" child is directly correlated with the "successful, productive" child. While we believe in the value of being producers we also believe there is an equal value in experiencing nature in a setting such as a day or resident camp that emphasizes traditional experiences such as hiking, fishing, arts and crafts, animal care and above all, the development of social skills and human relationships.
For a few months a year we need to expose our children to a stress-free, serene environment, with minimal high-tech input or trendy activities. The days spent at a camp should be as important as the days in school. Education comes to us in many forms; the continuity of the experience is an essential ingredient for success.
Many of us find ourselves spending hour upon hour on computers engaged in non-verbal conversations with people-interactions that lack texture, nuance, and, above all, personal contact. And our children model that behavior. We listen to books rather than read them, and the imagery required in reading gives way to auditory perceptions. And there, too, our children model us.
These conditions seem to be the question: "At what cost to our children's core values do we emphasize the importance of engaging their energy in "snap, crackle and pop" stimuli so that they may be high achievers-evolved academically, but lacking moral and ethical virtues and social conscience or skills.
Yes, there are many choices. Those of us involved on a daily basis with children in the camp setting hope that you as parents will choose an experience for your youngsters that will encourage the wonderful intangible feeling of mastery that comes from an accumulation of successes over time. We hope that you will help your child understand that camp provides a safe place for learning skills by taking small steps. Camp provides a supportive environment for your child to take risks that build courage, character, confidence, self-esteem and integrity.
Camp is a tradition, which began more than 100 years ago, but today more than ever before it functions as an arena with boundaries and structure, providing your child the opportunity for growth and development while having fun.

Written for Westside Life, by Susan Rowen, a MFC Therapist for more than 29 years, and co-owner of Cali-Camp Summer Day Camp.

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