Camp Magic is real. It’s not Santa Clause real, or Houdini sleight-of-hand real. It’s as real as the algebra I teach, although with a certain je ne sais quoi that is difficult to understand when not experienced and near impossible to describe when it is. Camp magic is what keeps us coming back to this special place each summer.
However, camp is more than just camp magic. Camp is an essential “3rd place” in the world of education. If school and home are the primary realms of learning, camp (along with after-school programs) fulfill a crucial opportunity to grow. Camp teaches skills that school and home can’t always accomplish, those that are only accessible when a camper strikes out on their own and discovers what they are capable of.
I live in New York City and work as a middle school teacher. Each year my students go through the hyper-competitive application process for NYC high schools, which feels like the college application process (just way earlier). Each school has unique requirements: grades, portfolios, auditions, zip codes. Each school also seems to seek students who have that special “magic,” which are essential skills in the 21st century. I can see many skills those schools desire being cultivated here at camp:
- We Get Up Early: So early, and it’s so great. Breakfast is at 7:30, but for our cutest farm animals, it’s even earlier (6 AM!) and they don’t wait for anybody. Camp in the early morning is quiet and full of possibility, and changemakers (in and out of camp!) will often attribute their success to that early stillness.
- Work is Love Made Visible: Success is nothing without hard work, even when you don’t feel like it. Camp runs on making our love visible through the work we do to take care of ourselves and our camp. We don’t ask somebody to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves – we wash our dishes, clean our Kybos, and caretake the land. Working hard is a skill to be practiced, and camp gives plenty of opportunities for that.
- We Practice the Habit of Gratitude: Gratitude makes us happy. This muscle gets a workout during Silent Meeting and appreciation ceremonies. Appreciation makes us (and our community) feel better.
- We Get Our Exercise: Run/swim/skip/dance, daily. Plus, just the walk to a meal can be pretty intense at Timberlake; it’s a long way up from the waterfront!
- We Have a Routine: Camp has spontaneous silly moments. Those only work from a foundation of a predictable routine. Too much spontaneity can be disconcerting. Our routines forge our shared experience and identity at camp. Any successful undertaking in life has to have a bit of routine, and camp provides another framework to learn the fundamentals of good daily routines.
- We Set Goals (and Plan How To Get There): Through apprenticeships and ratings, campers come with big dreams: swim around the lake, build the Fair fire, finish a “Get Lost” hike. Those big dreams need goals to get there, and those goals need solid planning. Campers are active participants in making these plans because ultimately, they are the ones who have to accomplish them.
- We Try New Things: Life is about taking some risks and trying new things: activities, foods, meeting new people. The safe routines of camp allow for space to try these new things that we might not have otherwise. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and at camp, we take those shots. Taking risks is a skill that has to be learned, and camp cultivates it.
- We Embrace Failure: With risk comes failure. Growth doesn’t come from constant success – it comes from getting up from the failures. Not climbing the chimney on the first try. That fire just didn’t actually start. It felt weird milking the cow. Camp allows for failure in a safe environment so that kids can build the skill of taking stock, figuring out what didn’t work, and trying again. We can’t protect them from failure, but we can prepare them.
- We Seek Out Fun AND Joy: Camp is fun. Camp is also joyous, and we explore that difference. A game can be fun, but deep joy comes from accomplishment. Camp teaches kids (and staff!) to seek out both for a more fulfilling life.
Learning isn’t just for the kids. I’m the educator I am today because of camp and the habits it has helped cultivate. I’ve been allowed to try new things, make plans, build culture and remind myself to stop, breath, reflect, and appreciate. The camp experience at Farm & Wilderness isn’t just fun (it’s not zip lines, go-carts, or laser light shows); it’s a place where we find joy through hard work, deep empathy, and creative pursuits. It sticks with us even after we leave in those essential skills listed above. It sticks us when we struggle outside of camp. It sticks with us when we need to remind ourselves that yes, we’re enough and yes, we’re capable. Our greatness awaits.
Camp magic for real, y’all.