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Affluence and Adversity at Summer Camp


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Dec 7, 2007, 10:30 AM

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By Anne Morawetz — Director — Camp Ponacka for Boys

hardship and suffering . . . trouble . . . misfortune

an abundance of material wealth

As the 21st century unfolds, a culture of affluence pervades segments of North American society. This culture of affluence values “stuff” over people, competition over cooperation, and the individual over the group. (1)

Our children have not experienced the impact of the Depression, as did our grandparents, nor the World Wars of our parents’ generation. Today, the majority of children in middle class society possess no knowledge of hunger or poverty or adversity. Many parents go to great lengths to protect their children from adversity, both at home and at school.

A sheltered upbringing does not necessarily produce adults with resiliency and self confidence. Some adversity is necessary to create strength of character. When we fail or struggle or suffer, we find inner resources which increase our self awareness and help us to develop “backbone” and empathy. It is said that we learn more from our failures than our successes!

Summer camp provides children with an environment that mimics home in some ways but also presents challenges to develop a child’s character. Attributes of camp that mimic the best of “home” include:

  • shared meals
  • nurturing adult supervision
  • an atmosphere of emotional support and comfort
  • expectations for behaviour and skill development
  • realistic demands that challenge the child to grow physically, emotionally and socially

Summer camp also has “adversity” built into its structure. The adversity a child experiences at camp is a result of circumstances beyond his control. When a group of children participate in a canoe trip, adverse conditions are bound to occur . . . pouring rain which soaks all the sleeping bags and causes firewood to become too wet to make dinner! There is a rip in the tent and the mosquitoes make the night insufferable . . . These small doses of adversity teach children how to problem solve, accept uncomfortable circumstances, and to work together as a group.

Sometimes, in a cabin group setting, there is a disruptive child. Dealing with personality conflicts and learning to find common ground, developing patience and understanding at camp, teaches children to approach difficult situations in their adult lives.

Physical challenges present conditions that require real work. Many children raised in an urban setting, never experience the responsibilities of chores. Mastering the camp climbing wall, swimming a required distance in cold lake water, or facing the fear of an aerial ropes course, provide opportunities for the child to experience “controlled adversity”.

As a camp director, I gain enormous satisfaction when I read comments on the yearly evaluation form returned to us each fall by the majority of our camp parents. A few from our 2007 season:

“When my son returned from camp, he was a different person. He was happier and more personable.”

“He has grown and matured each year upon his arrival back from camp.”

“The experience is great for him. He has found it motivating and he is learning to get along with others. Sometimes he doesn’t trust his abilities and when he comes home from camp, he is quite confident”.

“His camp years have helped shape his personality and outlook on the world.”

An antidote to affluence, experiences of adversity in a camp setting will help to develop the camper into a compassionate, confident and resilient person, the kind we hope our children will become.

1. “M. Levine, clinical psychologist and author of “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids”(Harper Collins 2006)

Camp Ponacka was started in 1947 by Bruno and Gwen Morawetz, the parents of Anne Morawetz.

Invest some time discovering all that
Camp Ponacka has to offer.


(This post was edited by Anne_Morawetz on Dec 7, 2007, 10:58 AM)


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