Camp Woodland Blog

A More Authentic Life

Posted by on June 30, 2022

It has been so fun to watch the campers being refreshingly real over the past few days. They are truly open and genuinely themselves. I am convinced that they are possibly more so here at camp than in other situations. It’s not a stretch to think that these young kids are living a more authentic life when they are away from technology and other distractions. These camp girls are free to simply be kids, to not worry about things generally, and to romp through their day enthusiastically ready for anything.

For example, I witnessed our youngest campers stop to look at something they saw in the grass as they were walking to the lodge. I decided to join them because my curiosity was getting the better of me. They happened upon some bugs that had met their demise. So, what did they decide to do on the spot? Have a funeral for them. I’m not kidding. It was precious! They covered the bugs with grass, said a few words, and were on their way. This same group was seen riding their “horses” around the cabin the next day. Such impromptu and boundless imagination!

On Sunday afternoon, the CIT’s put on “Alien Invasion,” a camp wide hunt for “aliens” that just happened upon Camp Woodland in their space travels. Innovation and problem solving collided as the cabin groups went on a search for the oldest campers who were “hiding” and worth various points if found. Campers had to put their heads together and use their sleuthing skills to figure out where to look for the uniquely costumed “aliens”. While Sunnyside earned “winner” status for this event, to me it was more about seeing kids smiling and skipping as they went from place to place around camp. Such a welcome sight!

For the drama rotation this week, counselor Kate had the girls write a character (pilot, detective, cowboy, etc.) on a piece of paper. Each camper then selected a character and picked 2-3 props/costume accessories that gave identity to their adopted persona. Campers took turns in front of the group “acting” out their character while the rest were able to ask questions to gather clues and figure out the portrayed role. What a great opportunity for imaginations and unencumbered thinking to run wild.

So how do these campers do it? How do they live at this level? Do they have some kind of hidden strength? Or, do they lack a certain maturity, seasoned insight into life, or assumptions about what is “correct” that most others possess? Or, can we attribute it to the environment of camp, the social landscape and culture they enjoy here?

We can probably assume all of these play a role for these kids.

They certainly do have inner strengths— a sense of curiosity toward the natural world, a playful energetic attitude that seems easy to apply, an inherent trust shown to everyone around them. Kids have a special power to laugh at almost anything. They can be entertained by almost anything and be fascinated by the most “ordinary” things. Young children in particular are generally accepting and can make friends quickly and easily, happily able to join any group of other kids doing something together.

As we get older though, other tendencies take over. We begin to understand that praise and reward come from meeting certain standards and thus we feel some pressure to do that. We become aware of social expectations. We compare ourselves to others, making judgments about our self-worth. We learn what’s proper in various circumstances. We develop habits where convenience and comfort are the highest ideals. Each of these aspects of being an adult, it seems, work against the authenticity that is remarkable about our campers. Kids have the joy of being themselves and ignoring most of this… while they’re kids.

I think the camp environment plays a role too and helps even the older campers here tap back into their childhood spirit. Our camp culture provides a real sense of freedom to be your true self without too much social pressure, attention to “perfection,” or worry about being accepted. So much of the day at camp is self-directed, girls have more opportunities to follow their own interests and explore everything camp has to offer.

We encourage silliness, joyful experimentation, and giving things a try just for the fun of it. The girls can sense that Woodland is a place that applauds creativity, self-expression, and positive relationships. It is a place where it is “Cool to be YOU”. We’re not competing with each other or making comparisons to assign value. Instead, it’s a place that celebrates no matter what the outcome… no matter the winner or the weather.

Woodland is a place to put aside some of the assumptions, concerns and habits of being a “grownup,” and to experience the freedom to unearth more essential ways of being your true self… your sense of wonder and joy, your compassion, and your optimism. It’s place for kids to be kids.

Of course, the older we get, the more difficult that can be, and we might not be capable of fully embracing the openness of childhood. Worry has a way of wiggling in. But camp has a special ability to move us closer to that childhood truth. It can provide an enticing glimpse into living life more authentically.

Perhaps, that’s another reason why we love being at camp. I know it is for me.

Adapted from RBC blog.