What’s New in Camp Activities?
February 19, 2014, by Kristy
What’s New in Camp Activities?
February 19, 2014, by Kristy

An interview with Jon Deren, co-owner of Camp Manitou, a Maine Camp Experience camp.

Camp activities have to stay fresh and exciting for campers. What new camp activities are growing in popularity?

Fitness and healthy living have grown in popularity the last few years, and these are areas that fit well with the natural outdoorsy environment in Maine.  Yoga has become a very popular activity, along with stand-up paddle boarding, running, and even long swims. There are plenty of opportunities for kids to practice wellness and fitness during the day, whether it’s the early-morning island swim or the camp “marathon.” Complementing wellness and fitness, is the healthy eating movement.  Camps have embraced it and offer cooking classes, gardening and other food related activities.  These are very popular!  Ropes and challenge course programs have also developed a lot over the years, and we’ve seen an increase in demand for mountain biking and BMX.   Fencing has become more common too.

Fencing is somewhat classic-camp, isn’t it? 

Yes, and we’ve actually seen an increase in fencing sign-ups the last few years. There has also been a jump in hockey even though that’s a traditional sport as well. At Manitou, we also offer ice hockey at an off campus rink, and kids love it.

Traditional camp activities like waterskiing and wakeboarding will always be popular, but there are new activities on the lake, like wakesurfing, that have really caught on. Wakesurfing is a way you can learn how to surf behind a waterski boat or a wakeboard boat.  The boat goes slower than it normally does for water skiing or wakeboarding. The camper is pulled up by a short rope behind the boat and then gets into the sweet spot of the wave before letting go of the rope and riding the momentum of the wave.

That’s pretty cool.

It’s very cool. And surfing is growing in popularity. Learning how to do it in a comfortable setting is amazing. That’s the most popular activity in camp right now.  At Manitou we also offer surfing as a trip. We’ll go down the coast of Maine. There are some great little beaches.

Have any other trips emerged?

Yes. I mentioned mountain biking and paddle boarding earlier. We’ve been offering adventure trips that have really grown in popularity. It’s a three-day trip or longer where campers do some slightly more extreme activities. They’ll do surfing, mountain biking, sea kayaking, hiking, and we’ll usually pick places like Mount Washington, Baxter or Acadia – places that have more challenging terrain. I think camps, especially Maine camps, offer so many great outdoor, overnight trips.

It sounds like camps are really pushing group activity and sportsmanship, which parallels the increased awareness of diet, fitness, and mental stimulation. Do you think kids are becoming more conscious of healthy choices? Or are parents still the guiding force? 

I think it’s a combination. Many camp directors are parents as well, and our personal goals are the same as our camp families’. We can relate to what they want for their children and what’s important for their lifestyle. We share the values of eating healthy, being challenged, being out of your comfort zone, and having the community living experience. In many ways, we are representative of our camp families.

On that same note, many parents worry about learning loss over the summer when their kids are out of school with plenty of spare time on their hands. Is this a valid fear?

It’s really important that camps partner with parents to provide their children with a complete experience. Camps round out kids’ education in many ways. There’s social education, emotional education, and all of the skills that go with that. These are such important pieces of a child’s development, and schools often don’t have the time or type of environment to allow those parts to develop.  Fears about summer learning loss are valid, but I think a lot of camps have been very creative and responsive to the needs of kids by adding programs that will help keep their minds going, as well as their bodies. 

One thing about camp activities is that they’re comfortable for kids. There’s no homework, deadlines, exams. So you get a chance to create, to think, to build, and to collaborate, without having those extra pressures. It’s also fun.

At Manitou, we offer an SAT program and a college introductory course, and I’m sure there are other camps that do something similar. It’s a great way for kids to get an introduction to the exam and to the college admissions process. Campers have a great time because they’re with their friends, and a lot of the counselors were in their shoes five or six years prior, so they’re really good at articulating what the process is like. We’re definitely going to see more and more programs that stimulate the academic mind in a camp setting.

But these new programs also need to adapt to the digital age. Where do you see the connection between computer-smart programs and the more traditional programs, like pottery, drawing, etc.?

We are seeing a draw to computer-based creative activities, like computer animation, video, digital photography, radio – things where you’re using technology in the creative arts. That’s something I’m sure will continue to grow. But I also think that the traditional creative activities aren’t going anywhere. Schools may have cut back on some of those activities, but camp hasn’t, so it’s a special place to explore the more foundational elements of art.

It’s great that camps are always adding new activities. Even the veteran camper has something to learn each summer.

Exactly. We have campers for such a long, continuous stretch of time that we have the opportunity to give them a vast exposure to different activities. We want them to find a spark, and when they leave camp, take that spark home with them.

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