From Canoeing to Coding

How the summer camp experience has changed (or hasn’t).

Summer is a nostalgic season for me. For my entire childhood, the ice melting and flowers blooming only meant one thing: camp was right around the corner.

For anyone out there who loves summer camp as much as I do, you know the feeling. You wait all year to return to your remote home in the woods. This sanctuary where everything terrible about being a teenager seems to disappear. As summer comes around yet again, I reflect on these wonderful years of color wars, tie-dye shirts, and canoe trips. I begin to wonder if camp is one of those places frozen in time. No matter how the world changes around us, perhaps camp is a place of generational consistency.

So what is camp like today for young Gen Edgers?

One of the biggest differences is simply the number of choices they have. For many of us, our camping choices were somewhat limited. I didn’t ride horses, so horse camp seemed like a stretch. I’m not an athlete, so basketball camp was off the table. I settled on a more universal camping experience: arts and crafts, swimming, tennis, and staying up all night talking about what counselors we thought were cute (my personal favorite activity).

For Gen Edge and their parents, choosing a camp is a different experience. The camping industry has boomed into a two billion dollar industry with some parents paying as much as $5,000 a week! Any specialty you can think of… there’s a camp for that.

Secret agent camp? Check.
Fashion designer camp? Check.
Adrenaline junkie camp? Check.
Investment banking camp? Check.
Whale camp? But of course, check.

In the competitive era Gen Edgers are growing up in, for some kids today, taking the summer “off” isn’t an option. They are learning languages, writing code, uncovering the mysteries of the sea (at whale camp, I presume), and putting on Oscar-worthy performances at competitive art camps.

The house I made out of paper clips and Popsicle sticks is looking a little pathetic now…

So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe camp today is a totally different experience than it was in the past. Perhaps camp is now based on “actionable takeaways” and “skill-based learning.” But then… I began to read blogs written by kids about their camp experiences. It turns out, the messaging is almost the exact same today as what you may have expected to hear from kids in the Catskills in 1960. Whether it was coding camp or music camp, the blogs are filled with quotes like this:

“Camp has helped shape who I am today. I didn’t just learn about technology, I learned about teamwork and self-confidence.”

“Camp is really the only place I can be myself.”

“You really have to learn how to resolve conflict at camp. There’s nowhere to escape to!”

“I had my first kiss last summer at camp.”

“There is something special about my relationships with my camp friends. I can’t explain it, they just get me.”

Every generation puts their own stamp on how we define childhood and youth culture. At BridgeWorks, we spend as much time tracking consistencies as we do tracking changes. We know the world is changing, yet we also know that kids still love to float down the river in a canoe with friends while covered in mosquito bites. What kids DO at camp may be different, but what kids LOVE about camp seems to remain exactly the same.

My old summer camp officially kicked into action last week. I look longingly at the camp Facebook page as pictures are posted of sun-burned, scratched-kneed children, and I’m happy to know that everything I loved about camp is what they will love about camp too.