Confidence, for children, can be tenuous. Children need to believe that they can. In many cases, they need to be convinced.
Children need the warm rays of positive reinforcement.
And after spending fourteen years at overnight camp in Maine, I can say with full certainty that there is no better place to supply children with the encouragement they need to believe that they can than overnight camp.
That’s a fact.
Where else can a child climb to the top of a rock wall with nine supportive bunkmates and counselors cheering her on? Where else can she practice her soccer kick, her backstroke, her ceramic abilities, steering a sailboat, and improve her singing voice, all in one day?
Well, nowhere else.
Hopefully their schools are a positive, nurturing environment where they’re motivated to succeed. Hopefully. But the kind of astonishment a child will feel at her own abilities after she’s completed a math problem is different than the accomplishment she’ll feel when stands up on her water skis. I’m not trying to trivialize the importance of doing math problems. But I can say from experience that the joy, the sheer elusive joy on a child’s face when she stands up on her water skis for the first time, is unlike any other.
There’s only one thing that beats her smile when she stands up for the first time. That’s the grin that breaks on her face when she hears her counselors and bunkmates cheering from the boat.
And then there’s color war. It usually occurs near the end of any session at overnight camp. It doesn’t matter about the variations on the name. Some camps call it Color Days, some camps call it Color Games. At Mataponi, where I was a camper and a counselor for thirteen summers, we called it Jamboree.
It doesn’t matter.
I’ve worked at three summer camps, and at all three I’ve seen the same incredible sensation. The camp is divided into two teams, and then those two teams spend a certain amount of days competing against the other team in just about every camp activity.
This experience divides the camp, sure, but more than that, it glues them together. It bands children from different bunks, who didn’t know each other before. It makes them root for each other. They pat each other on the back, high five, hug each other, scream their heads off on their teammate’s behalf.
It’s amazing really.
What kind of confidence could beat the way a child will feel when she, bracing to begin a race, hears thirty other children screaming her name? I remember when I was twelve at Mataponi I was selected to compete in the watermelon-eating contest. And the entire red team was chanting my name. I wish I could bottle the way that felt.
But I know I haven’t felt it anywhere else but camp.
I can still draw on that feeling, though, that invincible feeling of encouragement that I have in my arsenal forever now, because of my time at overnight camp.
And what better proof of this is there than Caroline Pennell?
Caroline Pennell was my camper at Mataponi for two summers. During that time, a band called Julius C would come to Mataponi and perform. They would also give campers the opportunity to come onstage with them, and sing to the camp while they played their instruments.
This experience is what gave Caroline Pennell the confidence to perform onstage in front of thousands of people and celebrities, on national television, for The Voice, a television show that airs Monday nights on NBC.
She’s an amazing singer. Her voice is angelic. Check her out on iTunes if you don’t believe me. But the point is that when it came time for her to sing for her audition, she knew she could. Because she’d sang onstage before, at camp.
And now she’s on Cee-Lo Green’s team.
If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.