It’s a camp thing

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Resilience is a trendy word these days. Camps have been teaching resilience for decades and to me the process of resilience involves some struggle. What happens in that moment of struggle is what allows resilience to grow. When someone is presented with a difficult task they have a choice to work hard or give up. Working hard and really putting forth effort are traits that we believe are worth fostering.

At Birch Trail we provide the opportunity for this growth in a supportive environment with caring staff members who are here to help encourage your daughters. The benefits from learning resilience are that our campers feel more capable when problem solving, resolving conflict and become more emotionally intelligent. I don’t want to make this sound too easy. There is a definite magic to camp, but often it’s very hard work.

For many of our campers the idea of branching out and making new friends can be a huge challenge. One of the pivotal beliefs we have at camp is that mixing up our age groups every year is critical to preventing cliques and mean girl behavior. When our campers really get a chance to get to know other campers in their age group, each group then becomes one large group of friends rather than 4 separate cabins. For some campers this is easy and for others this is a true struggle.

For some campers it’s easy to make friends organically. For others this can tough. Birch Trail is a supportive environment and it’s a place where our process is very intentional. Because mixing up the campers is important to us we set certain things in place in advance. Village directors facilitate group games with each age group and the counselors are instructed on ways to bond and interact. We also have meal time interactions set up for specific age groups. There are evening programs dedicated to each village and each cabin and many of these events are geared towards campers making new friends and bonding within their age group.

One of the many tools we use to help campers bond is our cabin trips. The cabin trip is a great chance for the cabin to leave camp and have a shared experience as a group that is unique to their cabin. Spending time in the wilderness with only your cabin group is an amazing way to truly get to know your cabin and to create inside jokes and memories as a team. It’s been amazing for me to watch our Linden cabins leave for their trips this week as 2 or 3 divided groups in a single cabin and come back to camp as 1 group. I love watching the kids come back into camp having created and shared that unique bond; they wear it like a badge of honor.

Camp is a wonderful place to practice these skills and gain resilience. While it may be hard work, the opportunities are endless and campers are able to practice these skills over and over. It’s great preparation for the middle school and high school years and the safe, supportive environment of camp is exactly where we want our children to practice this and gain the resilience they need for those years.

Your daughter may sail through camp and never have any challenges or she may have a difficult time overcoming homesickness, resolving conflict with a friend or overcoming another obstacle. I often say that I never want our campers summers to be perfect, I want them to have speed bumps along the way. These speed bumps allow our campers to challenge themselves and learn how to struggle and in turn how to handle conflict, gain control of their feelings and emotions and gain resilience. These are the skills that will help them in life and what the true dividends of a Birch Trail experience are.

One of our alumni parents wrote about this subject after her visit to camp this past weekend. Here are her thoughts about camp and resilience:

After going back to Birch Trail for visitor’s weekend for the first time and not having been back at camp since my TM year of 1986, I had a lot of time in the car on the way back to Minneapolis to think about this incredible weekend that I just shared with my daughter Riley, her amazing group of friends and their wonderfully warm families.  Three quietly emotional hours in the car alone is enough to have you questioning your very existence in the world.  During this car ride, I was able to put camp into a perspective that I’d never thought of before.

I don’t think there is anyone who has been to Birch Trail as a camper, a counselor or has had the experience of parenting a camper who will not agree with me when I say that camp at BT is a “thing”.  It’s an expression I use to explain something that is truly inexplicable.  It’s a feeling, it’s a community, it’s a sacred space, it’s a special energy.  It’s magical, exhilarating, exhausting and intense all at the same time.  It’s a “thing”.

And when I went back, the notion of camp at Birch Trail being a “thing” really struck me.  Not because everything looks exactly the same, which it does, and the energy of the place is exactly the same, which it is, but because I was really able to understand the way in which my time at camp has affected me in every aspect of my life and to put into perspective how truly extraordinary Birch Trail is.  Because, to be honest, I’m still drawing on my experiences in the North Woods every single day.  It defines me and has shaped me into the person I’ve become. 

To put a finer point on it, here is where I tell you something that you don’t ordinarily read in this blog.  This is something that goes unsaid, but I’m sure many of you understand me when I say…..Sometimes camp is hard.  Of course it was magical and fun and special and incredible in so many ways, but it was also challenging for me. 

I was the camper that sometimes wrote tearful letters.  I wasn’t homesick per se, but more overwhelmed by a lot of the social stuff that went on at a camp full of girls and at times, it was a lot for me to deal with.  Interestingly, I feel like I actually got into my groove at camp in my very last year where I finally found my place and my core group of friends.  So was I that camper that couldn’t wait to get to camp every year?  Not really.  I mean it was fun and amazing and I made some incredible friends, but in many aspects, it challenged me in ways that I didn’t necessarily want to deal with at the ages of 11-14.

I’m not sharing this with you just for the sake of oversharing, but to explain that camp being a “thing” is completely different and totally unique for every single one of us.  The angst, the complexity, the struggle or whatever that looks like for your daughter is part of the process.  Counting down the days, saying goodbye to home, getting acclimated to her cabin and counselors, then saying goodbye at the end of a session and reentering life at home is ALL part of camp – it’s not just the fun stuff for the 4 or 8 weeks in the middle!  The “thing” is the full and complete experience and that is what makes camp amazing in all of its messiness – both literally (because, as you may know, girls can get stinky and dirty) and figuratively. 

Camp is a very personal experience even though it’s such a communal thing at the same time and everyone gets something different from it.  For me, I learned how to be resilient, independent, how to really interact with all types of people, how to be OK by myself, how to take chances and be adventurous.  It was the full camp experience and everything that goes along with it that has truly stayed with me and made me the person I am today.

So that road to Minneapolis was emotional in so many ways, not the least of which was saying goodbye to Riley for another four weeks.  It became so clear to me that even now, almost 30 years later, I’m continuing to learn and grow and evolve into myself all because of this “thing” called Birch Trail.  It’s as strong an influence today as it was back then and it’s still a beautiful “thing” in all of its complexity and nuance.  It’s my “thing” for me and it’s your daughter’s “thing” for her in a way that is completely special and uniquely her own.  Trust me when I say it will stay with her and continuously define her in the most incredible ways imaginable.

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