Leading camp expert Scott Arizala offers reasons why summer camp is just what kids might need right now, to help cure the loneliness and isolation that they have been feeling due to the pandemic and social distancing measures. This article was shortened for length and content, and the full article can be read here.
Loneliness was a crisis before the pandemic. And by now, just about everyone is suffering from it. Kids were already having a hard time connecting and making friends. Then one day in March 2020, we picked them up from school and they didn’t see most of their friends and trusted adults again — at least not in person. Since then, they have experienced a socially distant and masked world — one in which every conceivable thing has been canceled or gone virtual.
Fortunately, some things haven’t changed. Connection is still the best defense against loneliness. And that’s where camp enters the picture. Camp is and will be a needed respite and dose of normality for all kids.
However, it’s safe to say that being around other people, in relatively close quarters, doing things like singing, eating and playing games, will feel, in a word, weird.
In a New York Times article titled “We’re All Socially Awkward Now,” Kate Murphy (2020) makes the case that being social is like a muscle; when you stop exercising it, it atrophies. Now that most campers are socially out of practice, camp is a great place to intentionally exercise that muscle. Here’s how:
Develop shared interests with others
The thing with having more alone time is that we might also have a dawning and potentially deeper understanding of ourselves. Camp is a place where kids can discover their voice with regard to who they are, who they are becoming, what they are interested in, and what passions they are developing. Camp can help turn their interests and passions into a defense against loneliness.
Participate in common activities
Camp engages kids and gets them working together through an activity. Even just reviewing an activity becomes intertwined with what the campers did together. Having common activities gives kids a chance to weave others into their story. Those are the connections they remember and that can serve as a strength when they slip toward loneliness.
Have facilitated experiences
Camp provides structured distraction and activity, and it’s a great way to keep kids busy and engaged doing enriching activities. At camp, activities are typically chosen to include an intended outcome. Low ropes experiences and cabin chats at the end of the night are examples of specific activities that can elicit a certain response, growth and opportunity to learn. These experiences that happen at camp connect kids to each other, and they allow kids to learn from each other, and to experience a sense of growth that seems intertwined with others. Camp activities also create more safe space for kids to share their experiences.
Camp might be the perfect place to bring us back from the brink of a loneliness epidemic. And while no one would wish for the challenge of an ongoing pandemic, there is opportunity to make this season of camp the best it can be.
Reprinted from Camping Magazine by permission of the American Camp Association; ©2021 by the American Camping Association, Inc.