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URJ Camp Kalsman Summer Camp

3 important summer camp benefits

Winter's not too soon to start planning for summer

Summer camps provide respite in a world where children and teens are met with a barrage of external pressures that tell them who to idolize, what to wear, and how to spend their time. As much as I try to help my three kids build resilience and a solid moral compass, I know it can be an uphill battle every day during the school year as soon as they walk out the door.

As parents, we need more places outside of our homes where our kids and teens can feel at home while they can practice the critical thinking, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills we all know are essential.

This is why I love summer camp for my kids –and I’m not just saying that because I’m a summer camp director! Ask anyone who grew up going to an overnight summer camp, and most will tell you that camp was where they felt most comfortable in their own skin, where they were celebrated for exactly who they were, and where they learned some of the most important lessons that have stuck with them throughout their adult life.

Here are the top 3 life lessons that kids and teens can take away from summer camp:

Summer camp benefit: Find your people

Each summer, kids arrive at camp with a ton of baggage– and that’s not just in the form of trunks, duffels and sleeping bags. The beauty of summer camp is that campers can shed a layer (or layers) of themselves that build up over the year and spend time exploring who they are, what brings them joy, and who brings out the best in them … without the pressures of peers from school who “know them.”

Spending time in an immersive environment like overnight camp enables kids and teens to be vulnerable with their peers in a safe and supported way, eventually worrying less about how they “should be” and feeling more comfortable and confident in who they are. It’s in this state of self-confidence – nurtured by kind, compassionate counselors – that campers are able to find “their people” who “just get them,” reinforcing what we at URJ Camp Kalsman (and every other overnight summer camp!) have known for years: camp friends are the best friends!

URJ Camp Kalsman Summer Camp

At summer camp: Be still, be present, be open

Camp creates an environment that is ripe for self-awareness, self-discovery, and meaningful connections away from the pressures of school, sports, and yes, from well-meaning adults at home! Without a message to respond to or an assignment to complete, our kids and teens are presented with … time.

Not the time filled with camp activities (although there is plenty of that, too) but those significant, intentional moments where nothing is planned … the 15 minutes of serenity in the canoe in the middle of the lake or the walk together with a friend from the cabin to the dining hall under a canopy of trees, or the silence after hours of belly-laughter, staring up at the stars surrounded by cabinmates. The stillness of those moments, which are so hard to come by when we are shuffling our kids to and from school and activities, are priceless and are built into the fabric of summer camp.

URJ Camp Kalsman Summer Camp

Summer  camp benefit: Don’t run away from mistakes

As parents, we want our kids to be gritty – to take responsibility for a mistake and bounce back, whether from making a poor choice, disappointing a friend, failing a test, or not being cast in the school play. At camp, mistakes and failures happen every day, and kids must live with it – there is no escape, they can’t hide in their rooms alone or take the long way to class to avoid a friend. Camp is a 24/7 living and learning experience where campers are supported and guided through conflict and failure, whether it is not making it to the top of the tower or tension with a bunkmate. Mistakes happen, and we fall short of expectations. Camp provides the structure to help kids recognize where they missed the mark and the opportunity to try again tomorrow or in 15 minutes!

Time away at summer camp is an incredible gift we can give our kids and teens – one they will benefit from long into adulthood. If you want to learn more about URJ Camp Kalsman, please visit our website at www.campkalsman.org or contact Rabbi Ilana, Camp Director, at imills@urj.org.

About the Author

Rabbi Ilana Mills, Camp Director, URJ Camp Kalsman