We all know the power of summer camp and the pull it has over thousands of parents and campers each year. Once decided and registered, they anxiously count down the days until they are unpacking and meeting new friends. It’s only natural that for most kids, camp is better then endless ice cream, late night sleepovers or an all you can eat dessert buffet (although we are famous for those at Camp Blue Ridge). But, for those kids who like to sit back and watch, or have a hard time engaging with new friends from day 1, camp can be both challenging and life changing for them.
Camp Is Magical
Camp is a magical place where kids come together and create a community all their own, especially here at Camp Blue Ridge. Sleepaway camp fosters independence and allows kids of all ages, backgrounds, and interests to connect, share and discover who they are. Whether we realize it or not, often as parents and caregivers we can handicap our children. We tend to become overly involved, give too much guidance and most importantly, protect them unnecessarily from the real opportunities to grow and discover themselves. Camp becomes a safe sanctuary for them to escape the daily pressures, unhealthy relationships, or hidden challenges we may not be aware of. These lifelong skills are even more important for children who struggle to make normal social connections, create friendships, or overcome quirks that make them unique and special in their daily lives at home.
So how does all of this happen?
At Camp Blue Ridge, our family owned and operated residential summer camp, we work diligently and intentionally to ensure that our daily structure and schedule align well with the foundational principles and benefits mentioned above. Our program is elective style, meaning our campers select their own activities every three days. This gives them the opportunity to make their own decisions, identify and set goals for themselves, and participate in activities that bring them joy. Our staff work directly with each camper to meet them where they are, supporting them and engaging with them to overcome fears, learn new skills and interact with new friends and teammates while engaged in an activity they select. Some real-life examples include scaling the climbing wall and ringing the bell at the top for the first time, successfully completing a low ropes element with a new group of teammates or joining their first soccer team by making the independent decision to sign up for the camp soccer league. Whatever the example, camp helps kids redefine their own limitations, discover hidden talents and interests and use their voice in new and important ways.
But there is more, at Blue Ridge Camp we further empower our campers by giving them freedoms and opportunities to make their own decisions in a creative way. As part of our elective program, our campers are assigned an individualized schedule which they are responsible for managing. With five activity periods a day, they must navigate getting to and from each activity themselves, with reminders from their counselors and head staff when needed. They are responsible for having the right equipment, dressing appropriately, and making good decisions between activities. This may seem like a lot, but we are always close by checking attendance at the start of every activity period to ensure that each of our campers has made it safely to their next activity. In addition, campers have access to our camp store between activity periods. This affords them the opportunity to make good decisions, manage their camp store budget and practice good time management skills.
Beyond these structured opportunities, camp itself lends children to practice and master many soft skills that help them build confidence when returning home. For shy campers and those that in general have a hard time finding their voices, it teaches them to advocate for themselves. Whether it’s negotiating shower time, working through a miscommunication, or asking for help, so much of the camp day gives them the structure, support, and independence they need to develop these skills without them even knowing it! Mealtime is a camp wide favorite, beyond the obvious benefits campers are responsible for selecting their food options, ensuring they have enough to eat and speaking up when additional options or resources are needed to support their dietary needs. In the article “Five Reasons Why Great Parents Send Their Kids To Camp” by Audrey Monke, one fifth grader said “Going to camp has made me even more independent and a much better people-person. I am able to go confidently up to someone and introduce myself or hang out with someone new because of my time at camp.” In that same article, a camp parent wrote, “My shy, quiet nine-year-old went to camp not knowing a soul. Two weeks later, she came home transformed. She blossomed. She made friends, learned a multitude of activities, felt safe, loved, confident, and happy — really, really happy. As hard as it was on me, it was all worth it for her. It was the single best thing I have ever done for her.”
Camp is like a real life choose your own adventure book where kids get to be the master of their universe and rewrite their own story daily. Without even recognizing it, they are in the most important and magical classroom they will ever step foot in, working alongside skilled teachers and unique classmates that will together form lifelong connections, skills and abilities they didn’t even know existed.