Camp Woodland Blog

Self-Discovery is a Benefit of Camp

Posted by on July 9, 2024

We often hear from campers during the school year that, “I always can’t wait to get back to camp.” “Camp is my Happy Place.” “I look forward to camp all year long.” These are common refrains.

It doesn’t seem right to explain these feelings of happiness at camp by pointing to the variety of activities (sailing, riding, archery, dance, to name a few), the great food (taco bar, chicken tenders, Saturday donuts, or Dan’s lasagne), the beautiful campus we enjoy (Climax Forest, Sand Lake, Vespers Hill) or any particular “perk” like that. If not these, then why do Woodland girls love camp so intensely and often with such loyalty? 

There is a phrase we often hear at the closing Inspiration Hour where campers and staff members talk about what camp means to them. The phrase is, “Camp is the place where I’ve learned the most about myself.” There is something special about Woodland that leads to self-awareness, to a better understanding of “who you really are.” What is it about camp that encourages this?” How is camp different from other places in ways that make it well suited for this kind of self-discovery? That may be the question of the century!

For one, the pace of camp life really helps. There’s simply more time for self-reflection, more opportunities to try new things and explore (and Open New Doors!), more opportunities to relax and connect with the people around them. We know how busy lives can be during the school year, “up at 7am and back home at 7pm.” Having stretches of free time at camp is a wonderful thing. That freedom makes a HUGE difference!

At camp there are also “fewer distractions” mostly because campers do not have their phones. This is a big deal! One reason campers love camp, ironically, is because they give up something they use everyday, all day, at home. If every spare moment is consumed by retreating from the real world into the algorithmically curated virtual world of social media and the internet, then what’s left? If a smartphone is always with us, ready to provide instant gratification (distraction), won’t we skip over important details around us and fail to pay attention to what we might discover? With no phones at camp, girls are relishing the expansion of awareness being tech-free provides them. And, part of what they’re noticing is their true selves.

When asking older campers why they keep coming back to camp, they often tell you, “It’s the people.” This translates to mean, “the people at camp are friendly, kind people who make me feel good. They accept me, include me, and don’t judge me.” This sense of belonging, being a part of a community that cares about you no matter what, is a powerful force. It inspires a sort of personal confidence to let the real you shine, to drop those ideas of who you “should” be. It’s very common, after all, for most of us to fall victim to pressures of conformity, to create versions of ourselves that align with assumed ideals of personality, ability and beauty. But if that’s all we do, how will we discover what’s unique about each of us? If we’re just posing most of the time, doing our best to hide any hint of “imperfection,” (thinking this will help people “like” us), who are we really?

We think campers understand this too at some level. Maybe not explicitly, but they know that at Woodland it is OK to discard these social facades and explore other, deeper aspects of who they are. The people here at camp, the whole supportive community, makes this possible. When you realize that people at camp don’t really care what you look like, you can let you hair down, literally and figuratively. That’s the gift that can lead to greater self-awareness, much greater self-confidence, and greater contentment in the long run.

Taken together, these three characteristics of camp life— time for reflection, ditching phone-based distractions, and a community of supportive people —help explain why girls feel they learn about themselves at camp. Since this kind of self-discovery is really difficult back at school, they yearn for these opportunities and so cherish their time at camp. They “can’t wait to get back,” and feel good like this again. Maybe we can say these girls love camp because it’s fun, but also because it helps them grow.

If you want to help your girls grow like this at home, help them by carving out some time when they can slow down, be fully disengaged from their smartphones, and be with people who truly care about them. That’s certainly not easy, but not impossible either. How about a phone-free sleepover with friends, spent playing games instead of watching a movie? Family time one Saturday morning, spent outside? Those are just a couple of ideas that are also not necessarily easy, but may give you some encouragement to try. Our kids really do want these sorts of experiences but are hampered by forces beyond their control. They need our help. Fortunately, there is camp, but can’t we do more? Yes, we can!

Reference: RBC