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What is camp?

What is camp? This is a question asked of many of us, both by others and ourselves. It is an important question. If we are to be successful in making the public more aware of the opportunities available for children at our camps, we need to clearly articulate what camp is.

The need to clarify the definition of camp was driven home to me on two recent occasions. The first was at the American Camping Association's National Board of Directors' meeting in November. As we worked to define ACA and set goal statements for the next five years, we found that camp can mean several different things. The ACA national board members felt that the best definition centers around the experience that we offer, not the properties and facilities that we have.

The second event that led me to this topic was a conversation I had at an American Society of Association Executives meeting in Washington. A person who had read an article I wrote several years ago and I were talking about all of the different associations represented at the meeting. He asked what field ACA considered itself part of. When I told him we were in the child development field, he was surprised; however, after he remembered the experiences he had in camp, he quickly agreed with me.

The whole purpose of this column is to encourage you to think in terms of the child development experience that occurs at your camp. In fact, ACA's entire public awareness initiative is built around that concept. What we expect ACA to become in the next five years is also directly related to having camp recognized as the child development experience we know it to be.

One of the goals the ACA National Board of Directors drafted is that by 2001, "The camp experience will be acknowledged as a significant component in child development." However, before we can expect the outside world to acknowledge the camp experience as a significant component of child development, we must be comfortable with that concept and be able to clearly articulate the developmental benefits of camp. Each of us must consistently use the same language when describing what we do for children.

If you have had the chance to read the January/February issue of Camping Magazine, you recognize that ACA will be spending a significant amount of time and resources on promoting both to its members and the general public what camp can do for children. The article "Curative Factors in the Camp Experience" gives an excellent outline of what we should be telling parents and the public about camp and its impact on children.

My mother loved poetry and instilled that love in me at an early age. Later she introduced me to Shel Silverstein's special poetry for children so that I could share it with my children. That made the column "Camp Is Where the Sidewalk Ends" especially fun for me to read. I grew up in the country, where a sidewalk was what connected the driveway to the front door. Much of what is important to me came about through spending hours way beyond where the sidewalk ends. The importance of having outdoor experiences and learning to be a part of that natural environment is more crucial today than ever before. My environmental awareness developed because the outdoors was my everyday playground. That is less and less true for our children. Camps can help build the awareness that will be so important to our world's continued survival. Many studies on environmental education clearly point to the need for that education to be experiential, not just memorization. Camps are better positioned than any other organization to provide that developmental experience to children.

When I think of the opportunities camp offers for improving our society, I am almost blown away. Reading the last issue of Camping Magazine completely reinforced this feeling. Bob Ditter writes in his January/February column, "Although camp professionals have always had a sense that camp is great for campers, they often did not clearly understand its actual benefits and could not clearly articulate them, especially in a way that was relevant to parents." In addition to articulating camp's benefits to parents, we also need to be able to articulate them to other organizations. Much of what we need to be saying about camp is available in the last issue of Camping Magazine. I hope you make time to really read it.

We know that parents want organizations that can help their children become healthy adults. We also know camp can do that. We need to become better at articulating that fact to those outside our profession. ACA and Camping Magazine will try to give you the tools that will help you. You are the best people to tell the world what the camp experience does for children!

John A. Miller is the executive vice president of the American Camping Association, headquartered in Martinsville, Ind.
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Title Annotation:summer camps
Author:Miller, John A.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 1997
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