Guest Blog by Peter Goldberg
When I think about the phrase “middle school,” the top thing that comes to my mind is the phrase “The Worst Years of My Life.” (Personally, when I think back to when I was in middle school, I can easily agree with this statement) Which is why before working full time at Woodmont, my career led me to be a middle school math teacher. I wanted to work with and teach children during these challenging and yet formative years in school. What I always found amazing was that during the summer when I would lead our teen travel program with these students (some of which I had in the classroom, just a week earlier) none of them felt or acted as they did when at school. The experience camp provides for campers, especially at this age, which many classify it as traumatizing and awkward period of life, can be invaluable. I recently found this list of “7 Reasons Why Your Middle Schooler Needs Camps”, by Anne Archer Yetsko on the American Camp Association’s (ACA’s) website. She put into words what I could not, as a math teacher, writing was not my strongest subject. So I wanted to share with you why camp can be beneficial for your middle school child.
Camp Gives your Middle School Student:
1. An Identity: Kids need an identity. Middle schoolers are defined by their looks, material stuff (cool shoes, backpack, gaming devices, phones), parents, grades, and their athleticism. Camp allows kids to be known for being a great archer, team player, cannonball jumper, friend, kayaker, s’more maker, table setter, frog catcher, and much more. This list is endless. When a kid walks onto a camp property they get to choose their identity. WOW! Where else in life does that happen?
2. An Emotionally Safe Environment: Our middle schoolers need a supportive environment where they can mess up and it’s ok. They need somewhere they can miss the bulls-eye and no one laughs. Instead, their friends give them pointers on how to do better next time. Camp provides this.
3. A Chance to Be a Kid: We live in a world that forces children to grow up entirely too fast. Our kids need a chance to be kids. They need to make s’mores, ride horses, shoot a bow and arrow, dress silly, eat candy, paint pictures, play games, and go on adventures.
4. An Opportunity to Be Outside: Our kids live in a world where they never have to go outside, and that world scares me. Our kids need to get dirty, make forts, swim in lakes, and catch fireflies. There are hundreds of articles and books out there about “the nature deficit” in children. To grow emotionally, physically, and mentally, kids need time outside. As our addiction to phones, computers, tablets, and video games grows, it has never been more important for kids to have substantial time away from these things. I love to say that camp is where we can FaceTime and Facebook without any devices, the old fashioned way of connecting with other people.
5. True Friends: There is something about people living together, working together, playing together, and overcoming challenges together that creates friendships that are intense and long lasting. They are also different from school friendships that can often end on a whim and are just as often filled with drama. Knowing they have a safety net of “camp friends” makes the emotional rollercoaster of middle school more bearable. I will always remember my first summer leading the teen travel program, there was a group of girls who were inseparable all summer long. On the last day when we were saying our “see you next summer good-byes” I was surprised by their sadness because they attended the same middle school. They quickly told me that although they have been camp friends for over 10 years that they were not in the same clique at school and camp was the only time they had together.
6. Mentors: Kids need people other than their parents to invest in them. They need positive role models to look up to. Camp provides children with amazing, young adults who truly care about them and want them to be the best version of themselves. Kids need people to teach them how to make friends, how to handle conflict, and how to be a good sport. They also need to know that there are other people out there who struggled through middle school who are now thriving. When their counselor tells them that seventh grade was also a really hard year for them, it gives them hope that life will not always be as difficult as it is in seventh grade.
7. A Bigger Picture: Our preteens need to know that the world is bigger than their middle school, hometown, or even state. They need to know that when it feels like their world is crumbing around them in the halls of their school that their life is not limited to that place. They have friends and counselors close by and far away that get what they are going through.
In today’s world kids need camp more than ever. They need an opportunity to experience things outside of their comfort zone, connect with their peers and counselors without a screen to protect them, and discover who they are in an environment that is safe and supportive.