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How Summer Camp Helps Kids Experience Flow—AKA Being Fully in the Moment

The benefits of getting the kids away from distractions for the summer.



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Have you ever experienced the trance-like state of pure and total focus? Can you remember being so fully immersed in an activity that nothing could distract you? My guess is that you haven’t in a very long time. Our tightly-scheduled days are full of segmented time, short blocks of minutes during which a task must be completed despite the distraction of cell phones and looming to-do lists. The ability to multi-task has become a strength that we strive for at the expense of being fully present. The unfortunate result is that we don’t allow ourselves to give complete attention to the person or experience directly in front of us.

At camp, kids experience this intense mindfulness without realizing it all the time. There’s nothing like the look of determination in a camper’s eyes as he runs to the finish line of a relay race while his teammates scream his name from the sidelines or the calmness in the eyes of a camper roasting a marshmallow by a fire. Camp is one of the few spaces that provide children with the crucial opportunity to experience what Hungarian Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified as flow - the state of being so fully involved in what they are doing that they forget themselves (and the worries of the world). Time seems to disappear.  Self-consciousness ceases to exist. Just watch a camper on the pottery wheel, molding the clay as it spins round and round between their hands or watching them try to get the sail up out on the lake and you’ll know what we’re talking about.  

We intentionally do three things at camp to actively encourage moments of flow for our campers. We challenge them, we support them through positive relationships and we give them a say!

At camp, kids are challenged enough to be fully engaged while feeling safe and comfortable enough to not get frustrated or scared. We push them to try new things - big things, like zooming down a zip line high above the trees or stepping up to bat for the first time. When experiences seem too big, campers give up and when they are too small, campers get bored. It is important to push campers to try new things while ensuring they feel comfortable and we do this while providing innovative and exciting programs and fostering deep connections. The meaningful relationships that develop at camp, both between campers themselves and campers and staff, are indescribable.

We empower our campers to make their own choices when possible because when given a sense of independence, children give more of themselves to what they are doing. Whether it be elective periods when campers are able to make their own schedule or the line at the salad bar when they decide what toppings to add to their bowl, camp is usually one of the few places where kids are given freedom and autonomy.  

The more we experience flow, the happier and more resilient we become. Camp is the place to foster these moments and the impact they have on campers is both powerful and lasting.  

Emily Kagan, Assistant Director
Jeff Lake Camp

For more information on giving your kid the best summer camp experience ever, visit jefflakecamp.com

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Summer Camp -- Battling Anxiety and Celebrating Play 

Catch a frog, swing from a zip line, jump off a diving board, create your masterpiece in clay, race to the finish line and come back the next day to experience even more!  Summer camp is all about a sense of community, the importance of making and being a good friend, spirit, and traditions you can count on year after year while the pressures of the academic year are left behind.

Anecdote to Anxiety

Why is camp now more important than ever? Childhood anxiety in on the rise. It’s the most common childhood disorder that presents itself in my initial camp intake with new parents.  What role can camp play in decreasing a child’s anxiety and creating better balance in their lives?

Dr.  Shimi Kang, the keynote speaker for the upcoming American Camping Association National Conference and the author of the bestseller The Dolphin Parent: A guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Self-Motivated Kids, will be speaking on “Anxiety and the Importance of Play.” Dr. Kang believes there are several factors that contribute to childhood stress including overscheduled highly-structured indoor activities.  When not at a scheduled activity, our children are then under enormous academic pressure. We know the scenario all too well!

The Importance of Play, Connection and Downtime

Summer camp to the rescue! Dr. Kang recommends a daily dose of POD – play, others (social connection) and downtime.  She reinforces that nature has a tremendous positive effect on our children’s mental health. Being outside is a mood lifter. Connecting with others in an outdoor play environment defines the camp experience.

"Camp brings balance to our high-tech lives."

All creatures play. Dr. Kang explains that play allows for creativity and adaptability. Connection to others has been reduced to a text.  For many of us, dinner is no longer a time to talk about what is on our mind and connect with family members.  Camp is all about communication – the old fashion way – eye to eye.  Children learn to say what’s on their mind and get ready to listen to the response of a friend or staff member.  Downtime is the third factor Dr. Kiang finds crucial to a child’s well- being.  Camp is about sitting by a campfire and sharing experiences, making a lanyard with a friend or walking to archery and recapping last night’s Yankee game.  

Life Lessons

I recently received a note from a young staff member who grew up at Jeff Lake Camp. She was expressing her sadness of not being able to return as a staff member.  She was accepted into the college of her choice but was required to start in the summer.  She spoke about her journey from a young elementary school camper to a junior staff member.  She told me that camp taught her everything she needed to know to be successful in college – how to make a new friend, how to handle whatever comes her way, how to voice her opinion and how to appreciate what was special about her.

Camp can be your partner in raising a child with a balanced lifestyle.

Sue Rynar, Director
Jeff Lake Camp


 

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