One session has finished and another is beginning at the camp where I serve as the Director of Jewish Education (and mom to two campers). In our third summer of the pandemic, a lot has changed, even as we do our best for camp to get back to normal. We have collectively been through a challenging few years, and we are wondering if and how the kids will be alright. At times like this, it can be helpful to remember what really matters– what are the core components that make camp such a valuable experience?
As you might know instinctively already, camp builds resilience. Now there’s some more exciting research to support that. A 2019 study outlined 7 Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) that can counteract the negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The 7 PCEs are:
- Being able to talk with family about their feelings.
- Feeling that their family stood by them during difficult times.
- Enjoying participating in community traditions.
- Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
- Feeling supported by friends.
- Having at least two non-parent adults who took a genuine interest in them.
- Feeling safe and protected by an adult in my home.
Camp intentionally supports the four PCEs that are not home-based (numbers 3-6). Campers take an active role as participants and leaders in Jewish and camp traditions every day, week, and summer. For example, campers lead Shabbat services in the way that they choose (visual art, dance, music, or writing). Camp cultivates feelings of acceptance and belonging for every camper, from the bunk brit (contract) they create on the first night to the plaque that includes everyone’s name on the last. Camp creates opportunities, both planned and spontaneous, for campers to support their friends and to be supported by friends, whether in sports, drama, art, or sicha (a weekly conversation where campers share their thoughts and feelings). And we know that the strength of our community comes from the depth of our relationships– counselors check in with every child every day, and their observations are shared with unit heads and our dedicated Community Care team.
Sure, camp wouldn’t be the same without our epic DJ dance party, color war, and field trips. Campers and staff look forward to all of the activities in the various department areas. But in the end, it’s a community of caring relationships that matters most. In just a few weeks each summer, we are giving our children some of the most fundamental tools they need for long-term resilience, truly the essential tools for thriving in and improving our world.