Reading and the Camp Experience

Peg L. Smith, CEO, American Camp Association

In the camp community, we often talk about the camp experience versus camping. Although camping is good — defined by Wikipedia as “an outdoor recreational activity” — the camp experience is more encompassing and captures the depth and breadth of the possible outcomes one can derive. Using the phrase “the camp experience” helps us describe the plethora of opportunities in camp that benefit one’s growth, development, and education.

The camp experience is a fertile landscape that, once tilled, provides great bounty. For instance, many probably do not think about the camp experience and reading. Yet, the mind is a muscle that is as important as any other in the body. As we exercise and use our bodies, we often find the mind is much more alert and receptive to teachable moments. So it only seems natural that reading would be encouraged during the quiet times of the day or evening at camp (which is exactly what ACA’s pioneering Explore 30 Camp Reading Program promotes).

How many of us remember a parent, friend, or adult reading to us when we were getting ready for bed, in a classroom, or even sick at home? I was always soothed by the sound of someone’s rhythmic citation of syllables that became words of meaning. But why should reading be encouraged at camp?

  1. Reading is a critical job skill. Reading should be supported at home, school, and camp. Reading is a part of everything we do — even at camp: signage, recipes, art, directions, orienteering, etc.
  2. Reading supports imagination. Today, nurturing the imagination is so very important since too often the only thing we are doing is ”amusing” the brain . . . that is not exercise.
  3. Reading opens up endless possibilities. When I read, I can imagine being anyone. I can imagine traveling anywhere. I can learn about places and people that I may never see or meet, but I still benefit from the imaginary experience.
  4. Reading is a live conversation. When someone reads to you, you learn to listen — you learn to be silent in order to understand. You are drawn into the story in a way that gives you an opportunity to listen and attend to the sound of another’s voice.
  5. Reading is emotional development. Sharing time with someone and listening to him or her read is a bonding experience. You are sharing a space with someone that has been designed for the quiet exploration of the mind and imagination.
  6. Reading supports natural curiosity. The camp experience can open up a whole new world to a camper. Feeding that new curiosity with books written to expand one’s knowledge of a new found experience is empowering and increases relevancy.

Words are incredibly powerful tools. The ability to understand and use words to express thoughts and feelings is imperative if one is to be successful in life — regardless of ambition. Words used as oral expression instead of abbreviated text messages should never be a lost art. The camp experience is such a magnificent opportunity — and its impact on children and youth is strengthened by embracing the art of reading. That’s why ACA encourages camp counselors to find a tree and a group of campers, and go read a book! And we encourage you to do the same with your children.