Does your child come home from school and, after a quick snack, sit down at the TV or other screen for some down time? Many of you have probably experienced this, especially during the long winter in Boston. The same thing might even be true in the summer when kids are out of school. This is life in the 21st century.
As a camp director, one of my goals for overnight camp is making sure your child experiences a total disconnect in the summer, free of ringtones, video games and texting. Yes, it’s a struggle to find the balance of using technology to enhance summer programs and limiting—or eliminating—screen use. Not long ago, kids would play cards, Twister and Jacks to entertain themselves. Now that most electronics are not allowed at camp, kids have the opportunity to return to these games during rest hour.
We have found that unplugging at camp gives our campers the opportunity to connect with others in more traditional ways. Campers learn communication and leadership skills that are not dependent on technology, which better prepares them for real-world situations. In addition, once they have gone through a fun, unplugged summer, they are better able to put their technology use into perspective and figure out where it fits in their daily lives.
Last summer, when I asked a camper how she felt about not having a cell phone or tablet, she said, “Great!” She said it was definitely more fun talking to her friends and just hanging out rather than having the pressure of texting and always being online.
At Camp Yavneh, as at many Jewish camps, we have rules prohibiting gadgets, such as cell phones, tablets, laptop computers, iPods, gaming devices and anything that connects to the Internet. On the flip side, parents are able to email their kids, but the kids can’t email back. It is a true learning opportunity—kids write letters and actually address envelopes! Even though campers can’t use the Internet, we do take advantage of technology to offer live streaming of big events for the enjoyment of parents and others who are not able to make it to camp for these special events.
The bottom line is that a child’s summer at overnight camp should be about fresh air, making friends, trying new things and recharging from the routine of the winter. As one of our favorite staff members said, “Coming to camp is living life in color when the rest of the year is black and white!”
Debbie Sussman has been the director of Camp Yavneh in Northwood, N.H., for 22 years. Her fondest memories (pre-technology!) are going to Yavneh as a child. These warm, wonderful feelings continue now that she is the director.