Towering Pines Blog

Courage at Camp

We often hear campers say, “I’m always more confident and brave when I get back from camp.” Awesome! And, “at camp, I figure out how to be my best self, even though that’s hard at home.” Wow! Doubly awesome!

How does camp inspire children to develop courage?

Life at summer camp, especially at a place like Towering Pines, provides unique experiences that show kids how to approach things more courageously. It gives them daily opportunities to act bravely and to develop the confidence to be courageous in the future.

Most explicitly, we are encouraging our kids to be brave simply by sending them to camp. We’re placing them in a new environment where they are, on their own, doing new things. It takes courage for a child to leave the safety and familiarity of home, mom’s food, comfortable private spaces, and the security of their personal devices. Camp is so utterly different from life at home, it’s by definition challenging and can easily be uncertain and scary. There are bound to be social challenges at camp too, unfamiliar people to encounter and learn to be friends with. But at camp, all of this is completely normal, expected and encouraged. It’s supposed to be different from home in these ways; and that’s what makes it great!

Simply being here proves to boys, they can do it. Even when they are feeling scared, they can overcome challenges on their own. They can makes friends even when they don’t know anyone. They can try jambalaya (it might become a favorite!). They can entertain themselves by being creative even without their smartphones. They can share cabin space with other people, help clean up common spaces, and be interested in how other people are doing. They can sign up for tennis class even if they’re a little afraid they’re “no good at sports.” They can let themselves be silly performing a skit in front of the entire camp. Kids are courageous by simply being at camp. They prove their bravery by living their camp life.

This is also true with respect to many of the activities at camp. They take courage just to give them a try! Take TP Players. For some it can be scary to get up on stage in front of the entire camp for a performance. You have to be brave to overpower your fears with belief in yourself and determination. We can point to sailing in a similar way. It takes nerve to go out on a boat on a windy day and just use your skills to navigate whatever Mother Nature brings your way. The risk of capsizing is there, but here too, camp boys are facing it bravely. Every activity requires courage since the outcome always includes some degree of uncertainty. Through these activities boys learn to tap into their courageous spirit when needed.

The art activities at camp teach another important lesson about courage.  Fellas learn that being “perfect” is not the goal, that “messing up” is OK because what’s most important is the process of doing. Art at camp is done for “the fun of it,” for the joy of creative expression, and for the guaranteed novelty of the experience. There’s really no way to “fail,” so camp art projects do wonders to lessen any “fear of failure” a child might harbor. It still takes courage to pick up a paint brush, since again, there’s no telling how your efforts to paint will turn out. But making that decision to try is the most important step.

It’s also important that camp is a place where children make their own decisions. Throughout their day, they are faced with choices, and after considering what different options entail, live with the consequences of what they decide. This agency is truly empowering and a great source of self confidence. Making decisions independently, and having them turn out fine, gives kids real life evidence that even in times of uncertainty, they can be brave and make a choice. They can lean in rather than shy away. Choosing what activities to take, weighing how to spend their free time, deciding to stand up for themselves in a difficult social encounter, making the leap to help someone, consciously just taking care of things— these are all camp experiences where guys show their bravery and prove they’re powerful.

In all these ways, kids are brave at camp. Different perhaps from at home, here they find themselves in situations that require courage and still, they act. They face their fears and tackle adventure. They learn that it’s OK to make mistakes and try again. They make countless decisions for themselves moving through a complex social landscape.

So what is it about camp that helps kids do all this? Yes, they’re acting bravely while here, but what’s special about camp life that gives them this nerve?

Here again, we can point to the camp community and its values as the source of this power to inspire bravery. It starts with a very explicit ethic to be kind, to be friendly, supportive and accepting. Towering Pines is also a place with minimal competition, and instead champions enthusiastic cooperation, genuine communication and enthusiastic participation. Essentially, the camp community stands behind everyone here making the consequences of being brave (of doing uncertain things) less worrisome. There’s less to be afraid of when we’re not competing, when creativity is valued over perfection, and when we have friends by our side. Kids are brave at camp because we’re all being brave together, proving to each other that everything’s fine.

But when this kind of community support is missing, as it tends to be outside of camp, it’s of course more difficult to be brave. There’s simply more trepidation in the real world of competition and pressures to perform. Our hope though is that, like the campers who tell us they are more courageous right after camp, all of your boys too will have strengthened their nerve while they’re at TP. We hope they’ll remember all the new things they’ve accomplished, all the challenges they’ve overcome, and all the decisions they’ve made successfully— all on their own, independently from their parents. Seeing your boys be this brave at camp, you’d be very proud. Seeing their courage at home, even more so.

Adapted from RBC blog, July 2022.