Letters and Laptops
Writing home is one of the most time-honored traditions at camp and most camps encourage - and often require - a certain number of times for children to put pen to paper. "There's something iconic about the letter from camp. The act of actually writing a letter is a deeper experience than typing an email," explains Nienow, who says that many camps require children to bring self-addressed stamped envelopes and stationery to camp. Not only does this create an expectation to write home, it makes it easier for children to do it.
In recent years, some camps have also implemented a one-way email service like bunk1.com or campregister.com. The service allows parents to send email to their children, which camps then print and distribute each day. "Parents are still home in their everyday lives, but their children are in a completely different atmosphere, so this maintains the integrity of the camp experience," says Levison, who adds that the email service is not only convenient for parents, but allows children to receive mail quickly. Some camps also have media centers and provide campers with unique email addresses to send and receive email from their parents.
Laptops are generally not allowed at traditional camps, nor is free time to surf the net allowed. "Traditional camp is kind of like a throwback: you're living in a community and you don't have access to all of the amenities of being home, and one of those is a computer," says Levison.
Specialty camps, like those for sports, performing arts, or media production that typically last for one or two weeks, are for children who want to improve their craft, and are more lenient when it comes to electronics policies. "Allowing a portable DVD player is not really as impactful on the overall experience as it would be at a rustic camp in the Adirondacks," says Nienow, who adds that electronics can even be complementary to the camp experience - pne example would be at a performing arts or digital editing camp where campers may be required to watch a film to enhance what they're learning. Cell phones are usually allowed too, because there's more free time, and calling home is more about saying "hi" than about homesickness. Specialty camps that offer classes like graphic design or computer gaming allow computer access, but only during class time.
The Bottom Line
Although a child's preferred way to communicate is through text, email, and Facebook, "friending" other children and experiencing summer camp seems to be one of the joys of childhood that will remain a constant. "The industry as a whole still feels that camp is one of those places where children have the opportunity to make friends in a 'live' community," Rudin says. "The reason parents send their children to summer camp is to give them a break from the stresses of our technology," Levison adds. "Camp is a way for children to engage with friends face-to-face, have conversations, and use real words and sentences."
And as new electronics become available and continue to be the way children learn, communicate, and, for better or worse, disengage from the world around them, camps will have to reassess their policies. "The challenges and opportunities will continue to change as technology changes," Nienow says, "and camps will be looking for ways to minimize any negative impact but also looking to utilize ways that are beneficial for campers and families and to the overall objective and mission of the camp."