Spencer Ordway is the camp director at Winona Camps, a Maine Camp Experience camp.
What are the classic, universal camp activities?
The outdoor activities. Getting kids outside and doing things with nature has always been a part of the camp curriculum. Canoeing, basic boating, trips, and target sports like archery and riflery. With archery, there’s that romantic ideal of the superhero with the bow and arrow on the silver screen, so it’s something the kids want to try themselves. They use their hands, they see results, they get better. They learn that a bow and arrow can be used improperly, but they learn how to use it the right way.
And if not at camp, where else are kids going to learn how to canoe or shoot a target or put up a tent?
Exactly. Classic camp activities help kids see success they would not otherwise find in team sports. There are only so many spots on those teams and the pressure is different. When you focus on the classics and working with your hands — whether it’s making a campfire, woodworking, arts and crafts — kids gain new confidence.
How do you see kids approaching these classic camp activities these days, especially first time campers? Are they mystified, excited, confused?
Some of all of that, for sure. In general, I think they’re very excited. A lot of that has to do with the parents’ encouragement, pushing their kids away from the screen. Campers are very excited to try all of these new activities in a beautiful outdoor setting. Of course they’re nervous, especially with some of the overnight trips. But if they go on a day trip first and get a basic understanding of what the trips are like, then they aren’t as apprehensive to go on the longer ones. At Winona, for example, campers in the younger units start by going on day trips and then work up to eight or ten day trips. A lot of campers end up writing college essays about their trip experiences.
Boys are very tactile learners. How do you see these classic camp activities helping them self-identity and develop?
I think a single-sex camp like Winona allows for a little more risk taking. In the co-ed environment there’s a different dynamic to these situations. At times, kids aren’t as open and free as you’d like them to be when they try new things.
Some boys have grandfathers who did the camp-thing and who had outdoors experiences, but the grandfathers can’t teach their grandkids because they live somewhere else. Camp, however, can provide that learning for sons and grandsons. One of the great things we’ve seen is that the generation of fathers who didn’t go to camp notice a change in their boys after the summer — they see new confidence, new development and growth.
That’s wonderful. Of all of these classic camp activities, are there certain ones that have died out and are there ones that have made a comeback?
I’d say in the 90s team sports really started to take off. Basketball became worldwide and there were newer sports coming up, like lacrosse. Now those things are all very popular, but like I said, the overnight trips are really trending. Over the last ten years, our trips have grown because kids have a renewed enthusiasm to be outside. Also, woodworking and basic hand-skills continue to be very popular. And still, at Winona, kids are enthusiastic about archery and riflery.
What has gone away? We used to do a lot more rowing. That’s kind of gone. People don’t row boats anymore. It’s all about kayaking and stand-up paddleboards. Also, when I look at the old camp movies there’s always boxing. That’s definitely something we no longer participate in.
The study of nature has also changed dramatically. In the old days we have pictures of a pet bear cub. That’s not something we have anymore, for sure. Less of true wild life, but more study of nature and ecology.
On that same note, connecting to nature and learning to work together provide vital skills. We hear about Fortune 500 companies and about how kids who went to camp are better with people and can deal with conflict. We hear stories of campers who go off to the military and then come back and tell us how prepared they were. A camper’s time living in the community setting is character building.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge™, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.