Camp Woodland Blog

Addition Through Subtraction

Posted by on July 24, 2023

Some of you know that I have taught and tutored math over the years at various levels. Don’t worry – this is not a blog about the quadratic formula or any other math memory that you might have suppressed at some point in your school career! 

My mathematical brain takes over at times when I least expect it, and so it occurred to me that there are opposing terms at work during the camp season that are worth diving into. We often think of subtracting with a negative connotation – I know I’m not a fan of the debits that are taken away from my bank account balance when paying bills or visiting the ATM (and I’m guessing you aren’t either!). 

At camp subtracting is actually a GOOD thing. We spend less time on our devices (or no time at all if attending camp as a camper), less time in a vehicle or taking public transportation to and from school/work/home, and less time (and money spent!) going out to eat or swinging through the drive-thru because we don’t have time to cook. We also spend less time doing homework or the things we have to do and there is less excess all around (no trips to our favorite stores or online Amazon shopping sprees for 6+ weeks). 

We can’t forget about less comparison or judgment and fewer overall distractions. Being fairly isolated in the Northwoods of Wisconsin means that we are less urban (the closest Walmart is about 30 min away!). It is also safe to say that busy, hectic schedules often are the reason for less down time and fewer hours of sleep. I could go on and on (but I won’t!). The point is that all of these things SUBTRACT from the limited number of minutes in the day or from the quality of how our time is spent in general. I’m sure you are familiar with the expression, “less is more”. It perfectly ties in with what camp is all about (and where the “math” part comes in!). 

Because at camp we are spending less time doing what is necessary at home to get through a typical day, there is actually MORE time to do the things that actually ADD to our days. This looks like more in-depth conversations because we are hanging out with friends face-to-face, more walking, skipping, or running to our next favorite camp activity (which leads to more exercise), and more opportunities for balanced meals and being at the dinner table as a cabin family three times a day. 

We also see addition at work because there is more choice in following our interests and passions by signing up for activities that we enjoy vs those that are required. We come to terms with making do with what we have (and not wanting more), and we learn to share with others (sometimes in giving and sometimes in receiving). I love how dressing up in costumes for various special events lends itself to a mass exchange of colored t-shirts and other items between campers and counselors, depending on what team you happen to be on!

We typically have more curiosity and empathy at camp for others because we see people for who they really are and not what we want/need them to be. There is more authenticity as the members of our community don’t feel the need to be “fake”. There is comfort and relief in knowing that it is OK to be the true version of you. We often hear that campers are their best selves at camp due to the ability to be their actual self and not some imitation self. 

We are able to put away most of the world’s distractions and focus on being truly present. There is also time to S-L-O-W way the heck D-O-W-N and enjoy life’s little moments. Seeing a freshly spun spider web on your way to breakfast, a unique pine cone on the path down to the beach, or deer bounding across the field as you make your way to evening assembly are some of nature’s “distractions” that we welcome and enjoy every single day! We also tend to get more and better sleep at camp because of how active and full our days tend to be. Turning in on average at 9:30 pm and waking up at 7:30 am makes for 10 full hours of precious rest that our bodies need and crave. Most of us are still growing! 

At camp less is more. WAY more. The addition that happens through the camp experience is actually done by subtracting. Taking away those things for a while that get in the way of real relationships, real enjoyment, and real FUN. Excited for the adventures still to come with your camper/s!