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Fragmented Summer Camp


Communications Coordinator / Moderator

Apr 8, 2007, 2:31 PM

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Summer camp is not a free and easy experience, as often associated with the innocence of youth.

A central idea about summer camp is that it's structured.

Kids, counselors, section heads, directors, and owners, come together for one or two months of a guided summer experience. Cabins are sorted by age and gender, meal times are scheduled, sport and arts activities are organized and evening activities, like campfires, and themed events are timetabled — that's traditional camp.

Specialty camps possess greater organization with a focus on various skills practiced time and again to create greater proficiencies.

For example, baseball camp goers train through hitting and fielding drills and specialize in their chosen positions.

Another example – arts specialty campers engage in classes, focus on areas of personal interest, build personal portfolios, and share individual time with instructors.

Many camps exist in a meticulous natural environment of cabins, wooded areas, open fields, foot paths, waterfronts, offices, a health center, an indoor auditorium, and a dining area. Remote areas are constructed for religious services (chapels), campfires, reflection areas, or secluded beaches.

A few unstructured – free - periods exist.

There's free swim when lessons are suspended and the waterfront is opened during sweltering days of hot sun and high humidity.

Also, free time is set aside after lunch for an afternoon nap, reading, or socializing within or between cabins.

But, when talk turns to unstructured time, most camp administrators and parents shudder. Unstructured time is when kids cease learning, become indolent, and get into trouble.

But, the part about unstructured time that feels good, is the freedom it provides youth to learn from each other without the interference of authority figures.

This freedom doesn't suit young children who require and depend on the supervision of counselors, section heads, and camp directors.

But teenagers often thrive on elbowroom.

Adolescence is a key time in life when young people want to reach for new horizons and make new friends. Although frequently awkward, it’s the era when the goal of being part of a crowd makes sense, when flexing the muscles of a new generation becomes genuine.

Youth belongs to the young, and summer teens cannot grow beyond a highly structured schedule without periods to 'hang out'.

'Hanging out' is another feared term. It also implies doing nothing, getting into trouble; but 'hanging out' is also a creative, collective experience that is a principle domain of young people.

No amount of supervision will blunt the essential unstructured nature of youth. Adolescence is a fragmented period in life when teens learn to depend on each other, rather than upon figures above them.

It's positive to recognize that summer camp authorities need to provide adolescents with free time to augment the often over-structured schedule of summer camp which can be as grueling as school.

What does unstructured summer camp time look like for teenagers? It is simply the action of providing teens with daily time-off, for a few hours, away from planned activities, with minimal adult supervision. They would be given the freedom to explore camp grounds and facilities, in groups of their own making, and to entertain themselves as they see fit, within accepted legal parameters.

And, like teenage life at home, they would be expected to reassemble at their cabins, at agreed times. This process parallels the freedoms many adolescents negotiate with their parents.

This process is understood within the designation of in loco parentis – ‘in the place of the parent’ – and it is natural for camp directors to share with parents that teenage children will be given a similar latitude that they receive at home.

Camp is a fun summer break from academic and home structure. The central idea of summer camp as a planned and meticulous experience needs revision in light of the spirit of youth.

Stephen Winbaum is the Communication Coordinator of


(This post was edited by stephenwinbaum on Apr 9, 2007, 7:52 PM)


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