It’s the holiday season and camp this summer is probably the farthest thing from your mind. Mailing Christmas cards, wrapping presents, traveling to see friends and family – it’s hard to focus on just one thing! Even though this time of year might sometimes seem like it’s all about the presents, we’re looking forward to camp this summer where we’ll share the best kind of “present”: Being present.
Think about the last time you were really in the moment – so involved and present in what you were doing that you actually lost track of time. Maybe you were deep in a conversation with an old friend, or hiking your favorite trail outside. Maybe you were concentrating on your next move in a board game with family, or humming along to your favorite music album. These kinds of experiences make a day feel fulfilling, refreshing, and enjoyable. At camp, we strive to allow ample time for being present and enjoying life in the moment, uninterrupted by homework or phone notifications.
The benefits of living in the moment include decreased anxiety, increased happiness, greater productivity, more gratitude, improved creativity, and a better sense of well-being. However, despite these benefits there are increasingly more distractions vying for our attention each day, making it harder to be present. A study in April from the Technical University of Denmark reported that, globally, attention spans are decreasing as the amount of information competing for our attention continues increasing. Another study from the American Heart Association found that young people under 18 today are spending an average of over 6 hours a day on screens. Choosing to maintain a technology-free camp is another way strive to take a break from some of this information-overload, enriching our lives in the present with genuine relationships and lasting memories. By allowing boys to unplug completely and enjoy the company of their friends face to face, or the beauty of nature in real time, we can give them the gift of living in the moment.
We find that when boys are left to create their own play, they invent games, build forts, make up kingdoms, pursue their passions, explore their individual interests, and interact with each other without adult interference. Each day at camp allows for imaginative play, especially during free choice times and Sunday special sign-ups. We are able to celebrate “being present” at camp, without any rules except those that keep from causing harm, or inhibiting another camper’s positive camp experience. Though we provide a daily structure and guideline for each activity, we largely let the interests of the boys guide the direction of the programming. The goal is for the activity to enrich boys’ lives and follow their own interests, rather than be full of busy-work to fill time. At the same time, boys can enjoy the day without pressures from technology or expectations from society. They don’t have to be the smartest or the fastest or the most experienced. They just have to be present. When the campers go to bed each night, our goal is for them to happily reflect back on a full day and think, “wow, where did the time go!”
This feeling of “being present” isn’t limited to just the camper experience either. As counselors will tell you, being at camp is like being in a bubble, where everyone around you is focused on building each other up in a supportive community, having fun, and trying new things. One counselor described the summer as “a place where you’re rewarded for having as much fun as possible!” Once the summer is over and everyone dissipates off the mountain and back to the “real world,” that’s when we have the chance to reflect back on our whirlwind of a summer, and understand the value of such an experience. During the camp session, counselors can be found searching for salamanders in creeks alongside the boys, helping build forts in the woods, making up cabin songs, or having an impromptu dance party. We often hear that counselors’ favorite memories at camp were the ones where they were just enjoying the moment, talking with their campers, watching the sunrise, sitting by the campfire, or falling asleep to the sound of bullfrogs. Camp gives staff the ability to enjoy the moment too, free from the pressure of social media or exam weeks.
To separate the days of the year filled with emails and deadlines and homework, we find it a gift to have a block of time in the summer where we are free to enjoy simply being in the moment, and relish the present. We’ll see you at camp this summer, where we’ll enjoy the best kind of “present” together.
-Annie Pharr Ramsbotham