People are tribal by nature, and summer camp is as close to a tribal experience as we get today. Gathering in small groups or clans, jointly engaging in outdoor activities, exploring the natural environment and learning to work with, not against, each other and nature — this is the heart of the summer camp experience.
Camping and scouting have enjoyed a parallel history. Both activities include teamwork and cooperation, the mastery of survival skills, leadership training, and the value of personal responsibility. Ultimately, these aspects contribute to creation of a healthy society, and in this sense our tribal inclinations point to the power and necessity of collaborative relationships.
At some point along the way the values imparted in the scouting and camping traditions begin to seem a quaint, childhood artifact and all too often adulthood becomes a competitive game of “looking out for #1.” It’s too bad this happens, for as we look at the dysfunctions of adult society it’s pretty easy to see the ways in which summer camp values would beneficially serve adult society.
This is not to say that scouting and summer camp are problem free. There often are pressures to conform to the group identity and sometimes kids don’t easily fit into the “one size fits all” ethic. There are occasional dangers; physical and emotional capacities vary and peer pressure can push individuals beyond healthy limits. There are natural risks, too; learning to build and manage fires, the use of sharp tools, identifying poisonous snakes and the bites of harmful insects. But on balance, there are many fine lessons to be learned and self-confidence to be built; when this happens within a supportive, safe and properly monitored environment, summer camp can become a wonderful experience and a treasured lifetime memory.
Here in Sonoma Valley there are a variety of summer camp activities available, all visible in our Summer Camp Guide. Whether just for a week or all summer long, programs are available that focus on the outdoors, drama and performance, art and sports. Outside our area there are even “family camps” where people of all ages participate together in roasting marshmallows on sticks over a campfire, singing songs, swimming and sports activities. Our yearnings for a tribal connection run deeply.
A number of our local programs have been in operation for many years, and often the counselors are themselves former campers. The lifelong loyalties and friendships of summer camp give testimony to the power of being and sharing with others and the skills and experiences of camp are lifelong as well.
Not everyone has enjoyed the experience of summer camp. Those of us who are lucky enough to have most often highly recommend it. Modern childhood life is increasingly busy and often feels isolated; replacing time spent in front of a computer or television with time spent collecting branches for a campfire with others is something every child should get the chance to experience.