Community, Friendship, Networking: Why Summer Camp is So Much More than Childcare
Summer camp is a self-selected community, often formed by a common interest that provides instant bonding and camaraderie.
My kindergartner got a report card this year. She literally got assessed for coloring. While we are very lucky to be in catchment for an excellent school with dedicated educators and involved parents, the transition to a formal school setting was still a bit jarring for our “free spirit,” who would likely express herself primarily through song and dance if it were socially acceptable.
And while our students have fabulous extracurriculars available to them, they will always be just that—extra. A few hours a week where kids can pursue their passion and learn who they are. But at camp, that is the curriculum. Summer is a gift.
For our daughter, it is musical theater day camp. For yours, it may be overnight tech camp. Or good, old-fashioned live-in-a-bunk, paddle-a-canoe camp. Regardless of your chosen summer adventure, there is something so pure and strong about the experiences, friendships, and transformations that camp can provide. There is a reason people say “camp friends are the best friends,” after all.
We chose the friendship bracelet as our cover this year to celebrate this sentiment—the feeling of disparate strands coming together to form something beautiful, colorful, and much stronger than its individual parts. These are friendships unfettered by academic requirements or—more importantly—lines on a district map. Summer camp is a self-selected community, often formed by a common interest that provides instant bonding and camaraderie.
In your child’s school, they may already be typecast as the arty kid or the jock—pick any Breakfast Club-based stereotype you like—sometimes these roles are thrust upon them and color how they fit in, who their friends are, and how they are perceived. Camp is a clean slate and kids are embraced, rather than pigeonholed, for who they are. Long before the internet provided subcommunities for any niche interest or fandom, camp was the first form of “like” finding “like,” a lifeline for the “weird” kids, a light at the end of the tunnel that there is more out there for everyone past the schoolyard.
Because these friendships are rooted in common interests, they are deeper and happen faster. And because camp friends are already used to being apart and playing catch-up when the next summer reunites them, they already have the ability to withstand the distance and absence that adulthood can bring—these friendships are built to last.
From a more utilitarian standpoint, camp is also the setting for the earliest form of networking a child will experience, as well as the development of soft skills that are just as important as the academic skills kids acquire from September through June. Camp pushes kids to seek out others who share their interests, and collaborate on longer-term projects and goals. Kids learn to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, and be more flexible outside of the school setting. They learn independent work, and—especially for those traveling away from home for camp—independence in general. As their skills deepen and grow, they reach new levels confidence and a more developed sense of self.
Every day at camp, my daughter’s group began with warmups and the “rules” of the studio. Give respect to get respect. Everyone plays to the best of their ability. Tenets like “one microphone,” teamwork, and no bullying reach far beyond the showcase stage, and have lasted with her long after she has forgotten the words to “Hard Knock Life” or her Descendants dance steps. They have given her a safe space to return to year after year, and a way to make sense of her emotional world and navigate her kindergarten relationships.
And like our friendship bracelets, they make life a whole lot more colorful.
Lead photograph by Ivory Tree Portraits.