Camp as Homework? Say it ain’t so!
January 17, 2013, by MCE
Camp as Homework? Say it ain’t so!
January 17, 2013, by MCE

Guest post from Monique, Maine Teen Camp

Please raise your hand if you feel that camp involves a great deal of homework? No hands raised? Good, we must be doing something right. Of course, you are all wrong, but that’s okay because this quiz does not count towards your final grade. Maybe it should…but that’s for later.

Let me explain where I am going. A couple of things have come up recently, and they really struck a chord with me.

The first is the phrase “social homework”. A friend at grad school recently described camp to me as “social homework”. While I have heard this phrase before, the mention of homework sends a shudder down my spine right now, naturally. Traditionally, homework is work or study that you take home with you, to learn more about the subject matter on your own time. More importantly, a lot of homework is done by yourself. But social homework? What would that look like?

Social homework would consist of making and keeping friends. It might be a space to get better at being a friend to others. This space would allow you to learn more about other people, appreciating and embracing our differences and being a part of something meaningful. It would give you the chance to make mistakes in friendships, forgive another person, and move on. This space gives you the opportunity to explore relationships and find common ground with others. Social homework might involve learning to listen, ask questions, or simply enjoy being with other people, forming opinions about other people based on who they really are, not on what someone says about them in a comments section. Social homework means learning about yourself as well, who you really are, what you believe in, how capable you are, and what you need to work on.

Happily, all the above sounds a lot like what already happens in the stress- and pressure-free environment of summer camp.

The second thing is an article in the New York Times reviewing two recent surveys of school teachers. It seems teachers are growing increasingly concerned with the shortening attention spans of their students, and how that affects the ability to study on a deeper, more meaningful level. There is further concern, too, about creativity and simple diligence – the ability to keep going at a hard problem until a solution is found. What do the teachers point to? That’s right, increased access to the internet, smart phones, video games, and TV.

Now, I have a fairly serious problem with a lot of the reporting on this. It almost all focuses on kids. I believe adults are suffering from the same symptoms just as badly, if not more so, than students. It’s just that no one is keeping score cards on how adults are doing, but kids get grades all the time. The implications for all of us include becoming more easily distracted, giving up too easily, or lacking deep, profound creativity…all disturbing. This being said, the writer offers the suggestion that there is a potential solution: Turn that stuff off. While this sounds simple, it can be hard in our day to day routine.

This all leads me to my point. It feels like the most important one I can make. Camp provides space to switch off the devices and switch on parts of you that sometimes get pushed into the background. Camp has a no cell phone policy and it’s not about controlling when you can update your status, it’s about removing the temptation to “go away” to another mental space when you should be present in the here and now. By limiting internet access, we want focus to be on the people in front of you, or the task at hand. By turning off the TV, we turn your attention to yourself, to those around you, and to the homework that may be the most important of all.

In How Children Succeed (2012), author, Paul Tough points to the mountain of evidence that the ‘soft skills’ learned in camp are at least as important as the skills measured by standardized tests in school, and further that students who possess these important skills succeed at a much higher rate in school and in life.

Another way to think of camp is that it is summer school for all the “stuff” your teachers don’t have time to get to, but all the stuff that helps you do that work in school to your utmost ability. Being disconnected while you are at camp is a choice that we have made, you know, so you can concentrate on your homework 😉

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“I greatly enjoyed speaking with Laurie (Guide at Maine Camp Experience). Thanks to her guidance, ideas and suggestions we truly feel that our ultimate choice is the right one for us. We can trust that our seven year old daughter will have a wonderful summer!”

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