Where the Children Play

 

Many happy hellos from a beautiful Sunday evening here at camp BT! And what a beautiful Sunday evening it’s been—we’ve had a sublimely gorgeous day with the perfect summer weather. The TM campers led a wonderful Sunday Morning Service to start us off, and I really enjoyed seeing the whole camp listen attentively and respectfully to their camp “elders.” Sunday Services really are a special time for the whole camp to take things down just a notch or two in order to redefine and explore some of camp’s most important values. This morning was an especially sweet, calm reprieve after all the action of a fantastic T.I.A.D color wars extravaganza, which closed with a bang last night. So this morning, as the camp came back together as one cohesive unit, the subject at hand was one of camp’s most cherished emblems: our Service Tree. Using the classic Shel Silverstein story, The Giving Tree, as a motif, the TMers discussed how the ancient, long-loved tree whose roots we’ve gathered around for so many decades reminds us to stay connected to nature.

One of the things that makes time at Birch Trail so special is the way children and adults alike can find joy and solace in the rustic setting of these beautiful North Woods, virtually untouched by the sprawl of city life and the ever-advancing spread of technology. Here, we reaffirm our connection to nature and discover new ways to enjoy all it has to offer. Seeing all the sleepy, quiet, bleary-eyed faces of the campers as they absorbed the incredibly important message at hand, I could tell that they all understood just how vital spending time in the outdoors can be to a happy, contented life. It was really a beautiful moment, and one that I know the whole camp enjoyed.

In mighty stark contrast, the program that followed the service was anything but calm! You’ll notice some pretty wild pictures from our pre-lunch athletic event, Birch Trail’s annual Turtle Trot! The combination running race/ice cream sundae bar was a huge hit, and was quite successfully executed.  The afternoon saw the campers getting involved in a whole slew of fun activities, where they swam, climbed, danced and played to their heart’s content. And though of course we want the kids to have a blast no matter what the activity, we also keep in mind what else is at work when children play.

In what might seem like simple child’s play, we find there to be so much more happening beneath the surface than most adults would ever guess. During the fun and often silly activities we promote here, important work is taking place in those children’s brains—work that can contribute to strengthened social, emotional, and intellectual skills. When it comes to finding activities that promote children’s development, many parents rightfully consider music, sports and academic enrichment programs. These activities are indeed valuable to children’s growth, but something truly magical happens when kids are allowed a little less structure and a little free space in which they can flex those powerful imaginations. Studies have consistently demonstrated that the benefits of play, and specifically imaginative play, can help to prepare even the youngest children for all that life will one day hold. Imaginative play is, after all, the very foundation of abstract thought.

Seemingly silly role-playing can allow children to explore their feelings in a safe, secure arena; for example, when children pretend to encounter and conquer a monster in the closet, they gain a sense of control over the situation. The monster in their mind (and closet) can lose some of its frightening power. And a play session pretending to be a veterinarian caring for sick animals can truly help a child examine and practice empathy. Imaginative play can also help children explore some of the more confusing feeling they experience, such as jealousy, anger or frustration. Learning to process and control such intense emotions is often profoundly empowering for a growing kid. And when children develop confidence in their abilities and their potential, they become more determined and persistent when introduced to new skills that they hope to master. If that isn’t good preparation for a happy, healthy adult life, I don’t know what is.

Just getting to be a kid for the sake of being a kid is valuable enough on its own, but compounded by the important development that so clearly takes place in all the fun things we do here, playtime at camp offers a whole host of discoveries and growth for each and every camper. We’re a lucky bunch to bear witness to this awe-inspiring process at work, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the wonderment and potential of the child’s mind.

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