As the whispers of fall become audible and the jubilant cries of summer slowly fade into the background, it is an excellent time to reflect upon Camp Winnebago’s 99th summer, The Summer of the Elements. As the 118 elements on the periodic table come together to form our world, so too did over 200 individuals coalesce together on the shores of Echo Lake creating a vibrant community that lived together in dynamic harmony for over two months. Thousands of games were played, countless laps swum, dozens of trips embarked upon, a myriad of skills developed, innumerable creative endeavors facilitated, and infinite social interactions navigated. Boys from across the globe had the opportunity to gain confidence in their abilities to succeed, and fail, in an environment where being “the best” was superseded by “giving your best effort” and where role models helped boys understand that struggle was an integral part of life and when confronted in a supportive environment it offered them opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of their own resilience.
The environment at Camp Winnebago is unique in that it bucks the current trend of fear that permeates the world. For a myriad of reasons western culture has shifted to one where we inaccurately perceive children to be at greater risk then statistics support. This has led to an increase in “helicopter parenting” and created an atmosphere where children believe it is not safe to make decisions or navigate adversity on their own and hence, children experience significantly less autonomy than their parents enjoyed. After-school time is structured, constantly supervised and motivated by keeping children safe and preparing them for their future. Free play, pick-up games and hours of fort building in the woods have become the exception to the norm. The product of this culture shift is that young people are less creative problem solvers and more emotionally fragile.
Camp creates a broad set of experiences where boys are encouraged to be creative, solve problems and advocate for what they want and need. As a result, they are healthier and grow in confidence. Through a hundred years of trial and error we have created systems at Winnebago where campers feel safe enough to take risks that lead to both success and failure. It is an integral part of a camper’s life to know that they will not always succeed. That they can fall short in an effort, learn from the experience and make the decision to try again. A boy may spend an entire summer trying to achieve a difficult patch in swimming, canoeing or archery and not achieve it. It is when children become innately aware of their own durability that they begin to see the world as full of possibilities instead of a place to fear. This “radical ok-ness” may be just the resilience that needs to be created in order for your son to get cut from the High School baseball team and still go home and study for his chemistry test the next day.
There were many a boy this summer who stumbled while hiking the Appalachian Trail, struck out during an inter-camp baseball game, forgot their line in the play or had their feelings hurt by one of their companions. They experienced these setbacks in an environment where struggle is an opportunity for growth and resilience is actively cultivated. Where campers are supported, not coddled. Where opportunities are afforded to embrace struggle and in doing so campers become more intuitively aware of their own ability to weather the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, just as their parents did years before.