Summer Camp

When talking about play with Americans the idea of Summer Camp often comes up, especially when you’re broaching the subject with someone who maybe hasn’t given children’s play much thought.

“Running around outside, getting dirty, falling into bodies of cold water…” you’ll start, trailing off.

“Yes,” they say – and then you can see immediately if they went and loved it by how their face lights up, “yes.”

I was lucky enough to go to day camp for two summer in a row and then two different sleep-aways, and in the whole I loved it.  The day camp T-shirts had a big picture of a man playing the guitar under a tree, and the cloth would become soft as rabbits by August from all the washing.  I’d get freckles on my knees and sit on the grass singing and telling stories, look at the fire and eat marshmallows.  Some of the other girls scared me and I was suspicious of the dark cabins, loathed the lack of privacy and the showers, but my memories from those, the day camp in particular, are some of my absolute brightest.

Lots of people have memories like these.  Camp is about all kinds of things that overlap with play – being outdoors, being with other kids, long summer days and weird craft enthusiasms.  I’m planning a trip back to the US soon and I’ve been thinking about what to visit while I’m there, how different countries and cultures trace the same central idea of play.  I looked around a few summer camp websites, what they offered and what they were about.  This is a fairly typical sample schedule:

6:20 AM Early Morning PBA (optional and for select campers)
7:30 AM Snooze-You-Lose game
7:45 AM Morning Flag
8:00 AM Breakfast
8:45 AM Cabin Cleanup
9:15 AM Cabin Inspection
9:20 AM Activity Period #1
10:50 AM Activity Period #2
12:15 PM Lunch
1:00 PM Cabin Time
2:00 PM Activity Period #3
3:30 PM Activity Period #4
5:00 PM Shower Time
5:45 PM Evening Flag
6:00 PM Dinner
7:00 PM “Zone Time”
7:45 PM Evening Program
9:30 PM Lights Out / Patrol
11:30 PM Staff Curfew

It sounds more like the boarding school I went to!  When I look back I do remember always knowing what time it was at camp, and that being important.  There was meal time at the Mess Hall, Movie Time, Lights Out.  I think I was so used to being told where I had to be in half-hour slots that it no longer struck me as odd, until I looked at it as a grown-up.

Does it sound like a vacation you’d want to take now though?  Does that schedule look a break from your 9-5 job?  Or from an eight-period-a-day school timetable?

Can we have a play camp instead?  Where fun things would be happening and you’d know how to find them, but you would only join in if you felt like it.  A place with the materials, support and time for you to do something entirely different, entirely your own.  Where you could climb trees and go fishing and learn macrame, whether you wanted to do it for twenty minutes or the whole afternoon.  A summer camp where children and young people could be their own unique selves, with adults who think that’s amazing.

I hope that this place already exists – please comment on your own times at Camp, or if there are any organizations I should be reading up more on.


2 thoughts on “Summer Camp

  1. That schedule exhausts me just reading it!

    I’m all for a play camp. Our school has just come back from a camp at a ‘back to basics’ farm called the Yurt Farm in Australia which is all about free, unstructured play with a few activities thrown in. The kids are free to explore the natural surrounds, build things, muck about on the dam, build fires, make forts….I just put a post with loads of pictures on my blog if you are interested. It really is a magical place and reminds me of childhood:

    1. That sounds AMAZING. I definitely want to go myself, and possibly never return.

      I’d be really interested to hear more about what you do, because I went to some fairly progressive schools in the US which weren’t play-based, but were definitely play-friendly. It seems that play and playwork have developed here in the UK have developed almost entirely separately from education, which seems like a massively missed opportunity.

      I’d love to be corrected on that…

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