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Tag Archives: children in nature

The History of Camp

Bus to CampIn today’s hyper-fast, multi-tasking world, one of the great attractions of camp is tradition. Each camp passes down its own stories and lore. Campers appreciate that they’re enjoying some of the same activities, in the same way, as campers before them have done for generations.

But few people realize just how much history the camp industry embodies.

The Gunnery CampThe first camp – called the Gunnery – was founded in 1861 in Washington, Connecticut. That’s right — camping is as old as the Civil War, and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. Early campers enjoyed boating, fishing and trapping. It’s pretty impressive that two of those activities survive at camps, a century and a half later.

An 1876 camp was created to take “weakly boys” into the woods. We wouldn’t use those terms today – but camps still serve all kinds of children, in all kinds of ways. And we’re still in the woods.

Dinning Hall - Camp AgawamThe first YMCA camp was Dudley, in 1885. It’s still around – the longest continually operating camp in the United States. Scores of other camps date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With over 100 camps – some dating back 100 years, welcoming scores of camping “generations” – Maine has long been one of camping’s most popular states.

Boasting crystal-clear lakes, pine forests, mountains and (don’t worry) moose, Maine is (like camping itself), “easy to get to, but very difficult to leave.”

Camping boomed nationally in the 1950s and 60s – along with much of post-war America. In 1948 the American Camping Association adopted Standards – the basis for ACA camp accreditation. There are currently 300 Standards for health, safety and programs. They’re recognized by courts and government regulators – a seal of approval for any camp to which parents entrust their most precious possessions.

Waterfront

The ACA was a pioneer in anti-discrimination resolutions. The first was adopted in 1950. Since then, the industry has continued to emphasize youth development. Camp directors constantly study research in areas like child and adolescent development, and risk prevention. They understand that positive experiences, strong relationships, challenging opportunities and solid personal values are vital to helping young people grow into healthy, caring and responsible adults.

Sailing

Frederick W. Gunn and his wife Abigail might not have used terms like those 150 years ago, when they founded The Gunnery Camp. But they intuitively understood the many benefits that camping provided. All of us in this important industry proudly honor the traditions of the past.

My colleagues and I will not be here 150 years from now to carry them on.

But we’re confident our successors – and our camps – will.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey
Guest Blogger and former Maine camper and counselor

*Historical photos courtesy of the American Camp Association – www.acacamps.org

Everything I Learned Outside. . .

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv retells a moment in a restaurant when his son asked, “Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv had been telling his 10-year old about how he caught crawdads by stringing bits of liver across a creek. When asked to explain, the son replied, “Well, you’re always talking about your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down by the swamp.” At first, Louv thought Matthew was irritated and owns up to the fact that like other parents, he can romanticize his own childhood at the expense of his children’s current experience. But Matthew really felt that he had missed out on something, and Louv realized that his own childhood had been different.

If you’re in Louv’s age bracket, you may also recall a childhood filled with a kind of free, natural play that today seems like an antique artifact compared to current kid’s lives. Lives filled with mobile devices, instant messaging, screen time, digital games and fears of “things” outside. In his book, Louv explores “the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, as well as the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change.” He discusses the accumulating research that implies that secure children (and adults for that matter) must connect with nature to fully develop. This need for contact with the natural world is as imperative as good nutrition and adequate sleep. So, while multiple reasons give us less and less time to connect outdoors, more and more studies suggest that embracing nature is a human necessity.

The ways in which children understand and experience nature has changed beyond recognition for Americans born during the last two decades. While children today may be more aware of the global threats to our larger environment, they are much less aware of their immediate natural surroundings. As children, Louv and his peers may not have discussed global warming, or holes in the ozone layer, but they loved “their woods” and fields intimately and felt connected to the people and their location in the world. They identified specific bends and crooks in creeks and holes in backyards—explored the woods in solitude, lay in fields listening to the wind and marveled at clouds shape-shifting overhead.

Louv discovered that many people yearn for what they have missed living in de-natured environments and they are consciously making choices and decisions to ensure that they will not be “the last children in the woods.” Families and intergenerational groups are finding ways to better live with nature and each other. Summer camp, for example, is one marvelous way for youngsters to make long-lasting memories and deep connections in natural surroundings. With easy access to the great outdoors and opportunities to develop self-reliance within a nurturing community, today’s campers will remember fun-filled childhoods unplugged from urban life—and share their unique memories with future generations.

How can you make sure that you and your kids don’t miss out on the benefits of exploring outdoors? (For the record, I’ve been known to insist that my children at least squish mud between their toes and jump in puddles!)

Deborah-Eve, Guest Contributor

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