Jamie Simon and Aaron Mandel are the director and assistant director (respectively) of Camp Tawonga in Groveland, CA.
This first in a series of four blog entries, “Why Camp?” will examine some of the benefits that Jewish residential camping can provide for children based on the four part mission of Camp Tawonga.
Part 1: Positive Self-Image and Self-Esteem
For children, going away for the first time to overnight summer camp is a rite of passage, a major step in the growing up process and an incredible opportunity to pack years of growth and learning into a few short weeks. Some of the biggest benefits of the camp experience are the positive changes in a child’s self-image and self-esteem.
When a child comes to camp, it represents a fresh start, an opportunity to form a new identity outside of school, home and family. This “healthy separation” from some of the constants in life puts children in the position of making their own choices about everything from how to connect with their bunkmates to what to put on their plate for lunch! It also gives them a blank slate free of pre-existing pressure or judgments and allows them to be whoever they truly want to be.
Counselors and camp staff who reflect back and nurture all the special aspects of each child’s unique personality compliment the freedom of the summer camp experience. For the camper who harbors ambitions of being a famous artist but is too shy at home or school to give it a shot, there are friendly, encouraging staff at the arts & crafts studio to give them the skills and supplies to indulge their passion while showing how truly “cool” it is to put all your ideas, no matter how wacky, into action. For the camper who dreams at night of a future playing basketball for their high school, but fears they are too short or too small, there is a patient instructor who creates age-appropriate games and drills that develop skills alongside confidence.
By catering the camp experiences to the kids, instead of forcing kids to fit into a mold of what camp “should be,” individual expression and confidence is given room to blossom. A good camp program takes into account the age, skill and interest of the kids and leaves them feeling successful, independent and capable at the conclusion. When a camper completes a hike up a steep hill they were convinced they couldn’t climb or learns a dance routine they never thought they could master, that confidence and feeling of accomplishment gets stored away to be accessed at a later time when it is needed again.
When a camper comes home and shows their parents the art project they made and the photos of them completing an element on the ropes course, it will be as if a new child has returned, and indeed, one has. The camp experience gives kids the confidence to be themselves and to succeed in all aspects of their life as well as a source of strength to draw on when a challenge looms. They can picture their counselor encouraging them onwards and remember how great it felt when they received validation for simply being who they were.