Camp is about more than just activities

Whether it’s their 1st summer or their 10th, attending summer camp is an extremely fun and exciting time for campers. There’s so much to look forward to – archery, canoeing, the zip-line, horseback riding, hiking, cooking over a fire and so much more! But camp is not just about the amazing activities. Camp is a place to make new friends, to find a sense of community and it is a place for campers to learn and develop vitally important life skills that they can take with them back to their home, to their school, to college, into future jobs and beyond.

At Camp El Tesoro, we intentionally make time every day to teach our campers about many of these skills we call the “Values of the Day.”

Each morning as part of our flag ceremony, our CITs (Counselors-In-Training) introduce that day’s value by defining it and then giving the campers examples of ways they (and the camp staff members!) can practice those skills at camp. Each evening, as part of the flag down ceremony, the CITs remind the campers of the Values of the Day and ask them how they practiced the values that day. These are reinforced each night before bed when cabin counselors spend time with each individual camper, reflecting with them about their day.

As you can see, the Values of the Day are engrained into our camp culture and are a very important part of what we hope campers get out of their camp experience.

So what exactly are the Values of the Day?

We have 9 sets of values we teach the kids throughout their time at camp. In this blog, we are going to cover 5 of them, so be on the lookout for Part 2 in a future blog post where we will cover the remaining values!

1. WoHeLo:

WoHeLo” is a term first conceived by Camp Fire founder, Charlotte Gulick, in 1910 to signify an understanding of the importance of three guiding Camp Fire principles: WOrk, HEalth and LOve.

How do campers use WoHeLo? Campers, staff, and alumni use “Wohelo!” as a greeting, a sign-off, a reminder and a pledge: We’re committed to WOrking hard, supporting each other’s holistic HEalth and LOving each other and the wider world.

2. Grit:

My personal favorite of our values is grit. As I wrote about in a previous blog post, this characteristic of grit is what I most want kids to develop. Grit is courage and tenacity. Grit is understanding that failure is not the end, but is instead an opportunity to learn. Grit is understanding that failure leads to growth.

Whether it’s learning how shooting a bow & arrow, or climbing the rock wall for the first time, or learning how to make the perfect friendship bracelet, the camp experience is all about developing grit by being given a safe environment to experience failure and the support to try again. At camp, you have friends and staff members there to support you, both metaphorically and literally, as you take steps of courage and try new activities, fail, learn, and try again!

3. Teamwork and Communication:

Teamwork and communication naturally go hand-in-hand. Camp is the perfect place for kids to practice both of these skills. From putting together their cabin’s skit for the All-Camp talent show on Tuesday night, to working with 8-12 other campers to conquer some of the challenge course low ropes elements, working with a friend to correctly paddle and maneuver your canoe, or even working together as a group to clean their cabin (daily), camp provides dozens of opportunities each day for campers to work together as a team, to communicate and to share ideas with one another.

4. Inclusiveness and Empathy:

A great point of personal pride for me is Camp El Tesoro’s inclusion program, which provides opportunities for youth with mild intellectual or developmental disabilities to participate in camp activities and be a part of the camp community. It is crucially important for these campers to feel included and a sense of belonging at camp.

However, inclusion and empathy are not only important for campers with special needs. Everyone at camp needs and deserves to feel included and to have others empathize with them. Every day, campers practice these skills as they interact with and learn from their fellow campers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, who possess different levels of abilities, and who have differing amounts of prior experience at camp.

Campers also have counselors and staff members model these skills for them.

During staff training week, we teach our staff about the importance of the first night of camp and how critical it is to make sure that every single camper in their cabin makes some positive connections on their first day. Counselors continue to reinforce and build on those positive connections over the course of camp.

Staff members play get-to-know-you games with the campers to help kids get to know each other, do teambuilding exercises on the challenge course to help build trust and a feeling of comradery within the cabin, and spend time getting to know each camper individually through nightly check-ins to ensure that every single camper has a positive experience and feels included within their cabin and beyond.

5. Positivity:

At camp, as in life, not everything goes according to plan. For instance, sometimes it rains during camp, and plans have to get changed or canceled, but at camp, that’s just an opportunity to get to try something new and exciting!

Positivity is the key to turning what could be a negative experience into something memorable. As a prime example, during one of our Color Wars weekends, we had an elaborate camp-wide scavenger hunt planned, but the weather had different plans. Due to some lightning and thunder, we had to cancel the scavenger hunt staff members had worked very hard to put together. Thanks to the positivity and creativity of our counselors, CITs, and campers, instead of having a ruined evening, we ended up having a terrific indoor carnival, including a wonderful impromptu lesson of “Bro-ga,” taught by several of our Horizon (9th & 10th grade) boys.

Camp is an incredibly fun and memorable experience, but it is also incredibly beneficial in the long-term. Each of these 5 values (and the 4 values that will be highlighted in part 2) has immeasurable, enduring positive impacts on the “REAL lives” of campers and staff.

Attending camp as a kid certainly improved many of the skills that helped me successfully navigate middle school, high school, college, a master’s program, and every job I have every held. Attending a camp and working at a camp has made me a much more confident, independent, gritty, positive, collaborative and empathetic person, and I firmly believe that the camp experience is one of the most valuable experiences that any parent can provide for their children.

I work at camp, because I love camp and because I absolutely believe in the power and impact a camp experience can have on every single child who takes their first steps across the swinging bridge.

Tune in next time to learn about some more valuable skills that campers and staff get to learn each and every day at Camp El Tesoro!