I was in the gym the other day and I noticed something incredible. The person next to me on the stationary bike had his blackberry out checking email, the girl behind me was watching a show on her personal TV, and the receptionist was behind the front desk playing a game on her iPad. It hit me as I glanced down at my iPod that most of us are not even able to separate from technology long enough to get a work out in. I found myself longing for the summer where I get back to nature, put my phone away and save my eyes from days of sitting in front of a computer.
All of the buzz and national attention surrounding Richard Louv’s bestselling book “Last Child in the Woods” (http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/) about nature deficit disorder and children has reaffirmed for us as camp professionals that the summer camp experience is an excellent way for children to put away technology and reconnect with nature. Most of the potential campers we have the pleasure to meet during the off-season tell us they are very interested in computers, video games and other forms of technology. When we meet a new camper, we are asked without fail these important questions: “Can I bring my video games?”, “Can I have my cell phone?”, or “Do you have computers at camp”. When we respond with the very unwelcome, “no”, many of them look absolutely horrified. Even parents say, “There is no way my child will make it without a computer and his handheld games.” Months later when these same children are at camp, we smile when they stand beaming on the dock with a fishing pole, stand at the top of a mountain they just hiked with arms raised, or fly down the zip line with a huge grin on their faces. Once they get to camp and are trying so many new activities and meeting new people, they are not thinking about their video games or computers anymore. Many of our campers also make new friends by bonding over their shared interest and begin discussing together which level they are currently battling on a certain game.
One of the many wonderful benefits of any summer camp is a break from the digital and our reliance on technology. Campers get the chance to experience nature, try brand new activities they never knew they would enjoy and to just be a kid. For our campers, this break from technology is especially important. Handheld games are most often a solitary activity and for children who have difficulty fitting in at school or interacting with their peers this can be a source of comfort, but can also be quite isolating. At camp, campers are surrounded by their peers and have many incredible opportunities to meet new people and engage in different activities. When they do not have their video games to rely on, they are able to interact with their bunk mates and practice many of the critical social skills that are sometimes difficult for them. At camp, campers can prove to themselves that they can go 3 1/2 weeks without technology and can “rough it” in the wilderness! As camp professionals, we see this as an amazing accomplishment and we hope the take home message is that kids do not need to rely solely on video games to have fun. When our campers put down their video games, they might just make a great, new friend and discover many amazing activities in nature that can become new and important interests when they return home!
An interesting article about unplugging at camp: