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Camp Craze
Make summer memorable for your kids.

Summer camp conjures up images of rock-hard bunk beds, long wilderness hikes and swatting mosquitoes around a fire. In today’s technological age, with 90 percent of teens living in urbanized communities, these images hold little appeal.

Yet with innovative programming and a renewed philosophy, camp is once again becoming the latest craze.

For the young at heart

John Friesen, national director of Canada’s Christian Camping International, says we live in an “experience economy,” where every experience and memory has a price tag attached to it.

While this has put a lot of pressure on camps to measure up or kick the bucket, Friesen believes it’s added a level of quality that wasn’t there before.

That’s why camping isn’t just for kids or teens anymore. It’s for anyone who’s young at heart. As Friesen explains, “I believe there is a real desire and need for families to invest more time together.”

It’s more than a retreat: camp provides life-training that will minister to your world-weary soul long after the week has come and gone.

According to CCI Canada, about 60 percent of campers come from Christian homes. Yet the core teachings of camp are universal. “Camp is a place where a child can affirm his/her self-identity and be strengthened as an individual and also as a part of the larger social community,” says Friesen. “I believe this can be true for a secular and faith-based camp experience because of the characteristics inherent in a camp experience.”

These inherent characteristics consist of community, whole person ministry, relationship building, memories, and leadership development.

Then and now

Campers used to be content playing Capture the Flag in the field; today they’re scaling mountains, sliding down zip lines, skateboarding and competing in Fear Factor contests.

While these changes are no doubt necessary to attract an over-stimulated culture, they bear their cost. “Fee increases to cover rising costs and the need for camps to accommodate more aggressive facility regulations (e.g. water systems) are … very notable in the past decade,” says Friesen.

Other changes consist of heightened safety regulations, an increase in co-ed camps, and a more centralized community.

Some camps now provide “value-added” programming through academic courses or skill training, which allows children to gain a level of certification in a specific area.

Despite all of these changes, however, one characteristic remains the same. “Camp is still undeniably one of the most effective vehicles for positively impacting the lives of children, youth and adults!” says Friesen.

What to look for

So, what should make or break your family’s camp decision this summer?

“I believe the greatest impact on the child while at camp is the staff leadership,” insists Friesen.

Therefore, you want to ensure that the camp has an intentional training and development program for their staff, including program and cabin leaders.

“If at all possible, the best source for checking on the quality of the staff is usually other parents whose children have attended the camp previously. I’m sure that most camps are more than happy to share some references with parents in this regard.”

It is also important to look for safety aspects at the camp. “I would encourage parents to do a site visit to the camp if at all possible,” urges Friesen.

Many camps have open houses in the early spring and these opportunities should be taken. Parents want to look at the general upkeep of the buildings and visibility of first aid kits, fire extinguishers, emergency contact information, etcetera.

Lastly, it is important that the camp offers an experience that suits the nature and interests of the child. “Parents should certainly bring the child into the decision making process. Sending a friend along with your child is a great way to ensure an easier transition to camp, especially if it’s the child’s first camp experience.”

Healing the earth and our children

Camp not only breathes interest back into a largely-ignored creation; it revives the health of our young people.

A recent survey by the Associated Press entitled “Video Games May Hurt Nature” reveals that the world we live in is slowly decaying, thanks to the abundance of virtual leisure and realistic neglect.

“The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children,” said survey co-author Oliver R. W. Pergams. “Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.”

At camp, children are given the chance to appreciate nature. Against breathtaking backdrops, they’re able to enjoy life beyond the TV screen, to learn about the God who made them, and to relax in a peace-filled environment, usually laughing so hard their stomachs hurt.

Edmonton’s Katelyn Epp, an 18-year-old camper, says, “No matter what, no one judges you or what you do and you can be completely yourself. No place in the world could make you as happy.”

Emily Wierenga is a freelance writer from Blyth, Ontario. Some of her fondest memories stem from summers spent at local Christian camps. Her book, Save My Children, is available through Castle Quay Books.


Originally published in Focus on the Family.




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