Camp Woodland Blog

Life Lessons, Tutus, and Harry Potter

Posted by on July 11, 2022

An article about summer camp has been floating around social media the past few days from the Wall Street Journal. It’s an interesting memoir of sorts by Rich Cohen who spent his camp years at our Sand Lake neighbor, Camp Menominee. It is entitled, “The Life Lessons of Summer Camp: The Enduring Frontier.” The article is behind a paywall requiring a subscription to read it, but a couple of the points it makes are worth highlighting, mostly because they apply to Woodland as well. It is obvious the fondness the author has for his years at camp, and the long lasting impact those years have had on him as an adult. He claims, “Everything important I know, I learned at camp.”

He’s not talking about the things he learned in his activities, like how to shoot archery or make a mooring on a sailboat. He means more important things like being a stronger person, being independent enough to solve his own problems, and confident enough to “face new situations, read hierarchies, make my way among strangers, [and be] able to adapt.

I’d say similar things for the girls at Camp Woodland. As an adult, they might not remember how (or be able) to canter or do a back handspring, but what’s important is their learning to be a good friend through kindness, to be more independent and confident when facing new things, and to be more comfortable being who they really are. There are many of these deeper lessons learned at camp.

Cohen’s article also summarizes the history of summer camps in America from its earliest example, the camp established in 1861 by Frederick Gunn, through the many camps established in the early 1900s (with many being referenced from Wisconsin) devoted to “character building” and time outdoors closer to nature. Camps have of course changed over the years— shorter sessions, better food, and way more photos being taken —but the core experience of camp remains the same.

[Camp is] still not home. It’s still no parents. It’s still new people. It’s still the woods. It’s still the world. It’s still 15 (6-12) bodies in a bunk, stiff beds (mattresses are replaced when needed), wool blankets (for chilly nights in the Northwoods), no TV (100%), rank odor (our cabins are cleaned daily), fungus (that’s what weekly health checks are for), bugs (most definitely), pranks (not at Woodland), bed-wetters (counselors discreetly handle this when it happens), summer friends, dark nights and star-filled skies. It’s still your best chance of getting them away from the phones and screens. It’s still paradisiacal and green. And it’s still what we need— now more than ever.

This past weekend marked the end of the first two weeks (sigh). It was fun to see the campers taking drama, dance and gymnastics perform their routines for the entire camp. As a Mom mentioned on last year’s parent survey (BTW we LOVE feedback and DO read each and every comment!),

“It seems like we take her to an activity once a week at home, and she stays at the same level for months and months until she gets sick of it and wants to quit. At camp, she was able to practice every day and achieve her goals for the summer. This really gave her so much confidence. Also the level of support from the other campers is amazing. I watched everyone encouraging each other and lifting each other up and don’t think that she has been in such a positive environment before!”

Campers DO get to do activities daily, which is the equivalent of about 10 hours spent every 2 weeks learning and practicing new skills. And, we are a very supportive community. The cheers and applause before, during, and after these end-of-session performances are genuine and heartfelt. Even if gymnastics, dance, and drama aren’t your thing, it is super cool to be able to watch and give words of encouragement while your cabinmate/s do a routine on the beam, wear a tutu as part of the costume for a catchy number, and/or to have a part in Robin Hood.

It is also fun to put aside instructional activities for a day and to do something totally different on Sundays. Sleeping in an extra 30 minutes, wearing jammies to breakfast then donning Woodland wear to show camp spirit, reflecting on a theme for Inspiration Hour, having chicken for lunch (and ice cream sundaes for dessert!), and then getting to participate in a special event planned by the oldest campers, the CIT’s (counselors-in-training). This Sunday’s theme was Harry Potter. No imagination or stretch necessary to see that everything important IS learned at summer camp!