When I was a kid, I attended YMCA Camp Sturtevant in Wausau, WI where I grew up. I became a Junior Counselor at age 14, worked my way up to a Senior Counselor, and eventually became Program Director. Camp was an enormous part of my life growing up. In fact, in many ways, you could say it WAS my life. It is difficult to describe the impact it had on me as a person and a professional, but I owe much of my patience, creativity, and leadership skills to my camp experiences.
Eleven years ago, Northstar did away with their overnight camping trip at Camp Manitou for various reasons (budgeting, time, staffing). The conversation to bring it back began two years ago, and just last Thursday morning, our 6th graders hopped off the buses at Manitou, ready for a day filled with outdoor activities and relationship-building. The day’s activities included outdoor games, campfire cooking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and even an outdoor science lesson with drones!
The students were immersed with students and teachers in and out of the ARCTIC Zone throughout the entire day. No electronics were allowed on the trip, so other than the movie to end the night (I’m working on eliminating this for next year!), the students had zero screen time for nearly 24 hours, which is a rare occurrence for nearly all of our students in today’s age.
The aha moments and the laughs I shared with my kids were numerous, and I grew to appreciate “camp” even more than I already had. I was asked to lead some of the camp songs during the campfire at the end of the evening, and in preparing for this, I wondered to myself how many kids would be “too cool” to join in. When the time came, I was overwhelmed with screams and shouts repeating after me, smiles reflecting back at me in the campfire glow.
In that moment, I realized kids are kids. Heck, I became my kid-self again so many times that day! At school, we don’t always allow them to just be kids, and so many students do not have the opportunity to attend a camp like Manitou during the summer months. For many, spending the night away from home proved to be a major feat and accomplishment after working through their fears.
Camp is a special place that is difficult to describe. It creates a culture unlike any other. If you are one who enjoys podcasts, I encourage you to listen to This American Life’s podcast entitled: Notes on Camp. It sums up their research on what makes camp so unique and special for those involved. I am incredibly grateful we found a way to incorporate this trip back into our programming at Northstar. You can leave camp, but it never seems to leave you. I hope my students feel the same after last week.