Summer Camps I’d Like to See

Jun 13, 2015

Next week I send my highschooler to jazz camp, the first of three different music camps he’ll be attending this summer. When I was growing up, our camp options were far more limited than the proliferation now available. I remember music camp (which I did attend) and sports camps (which I did not), as well as your traditional quasi-Native-American-themed, lanyard-crafting-type camps. These days, however, kids can spend a week or two at camps for every possible sport as well as chemistry, chess, computer programming, SAT-prep, and rock climbing. There are probably camps for knitting and trampoline jumping.

The proliferation is driven by two mutually reinforcing needs: parents need something for their kids to do, and organizations, especially schools, need revenue streams and recruiting tools. As much choice as we now enjoy, however, I believe I can identify some important market niches left uncultivated. So here are the camps I would like to see.

Elf Camp
This is actually my daughter’s idea. Who trained Orlando Bloom how to be an elf for the Lord of the Rings movies? Whoever did the world that service needs to open a camp where kids can learn all the important elvish skills: horseback riding, archery, delicate hair-braiding, balletic moves across rough terrain, and of course how to speak and write High-elven, and perhaps intone melancholy poetry. Advanced campers, with the appropriate signed waivers, could learn metal craft.

Adult Realities Camp
Why waste time learning how to heave a shot put at track camp when you could be preparing for adult life? I’d like my youngsters to learn how to navigate medical insurance billing, compare mortgages, work the internet to find a good price on a used car, and manage a checking/savings account without incurring fees. Nobody taught me how to do all that, which strikes me now as ridiculous. We should be starting kids early on this stuff! And I bet parents would shell out camp fees to get the job done. In fact, we had better reserve some weeks for adult campers.

Home Repair Camp
About a month ago I was pulling the lint off the removable filter from the dryer and I happened to look way down into the slot where it fits. “Wow, that should probably get cleaned out sometime,” I thought. Out of curiosity, I looked up “clean dryer vent” on the internet, and sure enough, one is supposed to clean the entire exhaust line of one’s dryer once a year–I mean really roto-root that thing all the way to the vent where it exits the house into your bushes. The problem is that it’s quite a procedure and requires a special tool, available on amazon for $33.32. So of course I haven’t done it. But how was I supposed to know about this? And don’t tell me to read the owner’s manual. What I need is a teenager who has spent two fun-filled weeks at home repair camp learning to do all kinds of useful tasks for me: clean the gutters, change the filter on the furnace, repair drywall, do a little light electrical work, and master 101 uses for spackle, duct tape, and WD-40.

For these last two camps, advertising sponsors would no doubt line up to underwrite. Fidelity, Home Depot, why are you not on this already?

Sustainability Camp
goat
Here’s a trendy one. Campers can learn how to compost, raise chickens and grow kale, build a zero-carbon-footprint home, raise goats and make cheese, and generally live off the grid. I just saw the movie San Andreas, in which an earthquake basically snaps off the entire state of California from the continent (sorry about the spoiler). So I’ve been thinking about how useless most of us would be in the event of an apocalyptic scenario. The “survival” stuff kids learn at traditional camp—starting a fire with one match, making lanyards, eating s’mores—is not going to cut it when disaster strikes.

Farm Camp, City Camp, History Camp
Come to think of it, all these new camps would make great reality TV shows, so here are some more cable-ready ideas. Send a bunch of city kids to camp on a farm, where they learn how to shovel manure and milk cows, culminating the camp experience/broadcast season with the county fair. Alternatively, send a bunch of rural kids to the city, where they learn how to use the subway, eat at bodegas, and rent a tiny, outrageously expensive apartment.

NY Renaissance Faire 2009Even better, here’s an idea to help colleges save their humanities programs by recruiting history majors: historical period camps. Renaissance camp, for example. Wouldn’t that be fun? Like a Renaissance fair, except with more intellectual content. Campers could learn Renaissance dancing, feasting, and jousting, but they could also do fun activities like divide up into Catholics and Protestants and have paint-ball wars. Or, how about Roman empire camp? I mean, why leave all the toga-wearing to the VBS people? Cabins could be named after the regions that Rome ruled (Gaul, Brittania, etc.), and campers could spend the mornings on various military formations (the tortoise, the wedge), then practice public oratory in the afternoons. Evenings would have to feature only “lite” versions of Roman decadence in order to avoid liability.

Desert Ascetic Camp
Since we’re entering a 21st-century version of late empire post-Christendom, perhaps it’s time for a different religious camp option. In this version, campers flee to the wilderness (desert, forest, whatever you’ve got) and spend their days in fasting and prayer. The lack of sustenance could make this a low-budget option, while also addressing our child obesity problem. The tall poles for those trendy ropes courses of the 1990s could be repurposed as stylite posts.

Computer Games Camp
I realize this is what kids would clamor for the most. However, parents want to send their kids to camp precisely to avoid a summer filled with the relentless clatter of Minecraft, World of Warcraft, and League of Legends, resulting in zombie-like, bleary-eyed youngsters emerging only occasionally from basement cave dwellings. With that in mind, I would suggest that all the traditional camps out there scrub themselves of Native-American references—now considered somewhat offensive anyway—and rebrand themselves as “no-screens camps.” Perhaps they could rename the cabins after Super Mario characters.

It’s likely I’m not the first person to think of any of these great ideas. So extra points to anyone who finds a link to an actual camp that comes close to any of these descriptions. And super-extra-bonus points to anyone who has attended (or whose kid has attended) a beyond-ordinary camp. Keep in mind, though, that it will be hard to compete with what I did last summer: Homer’s Odyssey camp, which sadly did not involve wearing togas. Or with fellow Twelver Jennifer Holberg, who went to Dante camp, in Italy–which did involve (by her report) the consumption of gelato.

I have published books on motherhood, Christian spirituality, and language in worship. I write regularly about all sorts of topics for The Twelve, and I teach literature and writing at Calvin College, where I have served on the faculty since 1996.

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