On April 14, 2016, Peter Katz, accomplished Canadian singer-songwriter and Juno Award Nominee, made his inaugural keynote address to the Society of Camp Directors. His simple, sincere and at times amusing message was a heartfelt thank you to all the camp leaders in the room. As an eleven-year-old camper, a “God-like counsellor” whom he adored, handed him his guitar and encouraged Peter to strum a cord. He credits the start of his successful career to that moment.
My name is Peter Katz. I make my living as a singer-songwriter, writing music, playing shows all over the world, as well as making music for film and TV. One of my proudest creations is a song I wrote called The Camp Song that was commissioned by the International Camping Fellowship for the 2008 conference in Quebec City where I had a chance to premiere the song in front of over 600 camp directors from around the world. From that performance, I’ve seen the song make its way around the globe from camps in China to Hawaii to Turkey to Russia to Germany.
My life as a singer-songwriter is built on the premise of investing all of my heart and soul into these little things called songs and then putting them out into the world… I’ve been told stories of my songs being used in the birthing room as a new life was coming into the word; I’ve seen countless videos of people walking down the aisle on their wedding day to one of my songs or sharing a first dance; I’ve been told of my songs being used at someone’s wake or accompanying their final breaths in their hospital bed.
Here’s what I want you to know about the work you’re doing. I make songs and you make people. Camp is a FACTORY for those key moments that will stay with people for the rest of their lives. Camp is a breeding ground for those defining discoveries that come to create identities and ambitions and fundamental self-confidences that people carry with them forever. You are working at the very source; you’re creating emotional safety and within that safety, comes a place where kids and young adults are able to take that risk, to push themselves to engage in a way they wouldn’t if they were paralyzed by fear and judgment.
Camp isn’t the cabins or the trees or the campfire or any of the things we typically think of. And rock-climbing isn’t rock-climbing; rock-climbing is facing fear; rock climbing is sitting in discomfort; it’s learning to trust; it’s following something through even if it’s hard. And canoeing down a river isn’t canoeing down a river, it’s surrendering to the things you can’t control; it’s learning how to work within the circumstances that are before you; it’s working with a partner to get somewhere together; it’s communication. And hiking isn’t hiking, it’s about being able to stand and see how far you’ve come; it’s about taking something slow and steady; it’s about overcoming the negative self-talk and stepping forward anyways.
I want to tell you that camp matters. I think it should be a basic human right for every young person to have a chance to experience camp [enthusiastic applause from the audience here!] and as one of your former campers, from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you. I understand all the logistics, and the budgeting and the marketing and the health and safety and the politics…But I want you to remember that you are at the front line of life-defining experiences and all of your little songs are out there in the world making an impact in so many ways that you likely won’t ever know or hear about –but it’s happening.
Please share this flyer to all your campers and staff and encourage them to wear their camp clothing on the weekend of April 29 – May 1, 2016 and proudly announce their camp affiliation to the world!
The International Camping Fellowship is happy to announce a special opportunity, made possible by Markel Insurance and the Educational Alliance between ICF and the American Camp Association, for a free webinar with Bob Ditter on Tuesday, April 19, 1:00 p.m. EST, and you are invited! The webinar will be presented in English.
Learn new ways to work with challenging camper behavior. This highly practical webinar will provide you with simple and effective ways to work with children who struggle making the adjustment to camp life.
In this webinar you will learn:
The “prognostic indicators” that guide your decision about continuing to work with a camper versus sending them home.
Bob Ditter is a highly-recognized child, adolescent, and family therapist from Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He is a nationally recognized trainer and consultant for organizations that work with young people. He has been called “camping’s most articulate spokesman” because of his work with children’s summer camps since 1982.
Limited registration is now open to ICF members! To reserve your space, click here. Select ‘Register’ in event status.
ICF extends a big thank you to Markel Insurance for offering this special opportunity to you, and we hope many of you will register! This is time sensitive! Register now!
“What is it?” asked my cabin leader, gently. We both eyed my clay creation as it emerged from the camp kiln, glazed and cooled. I was 12, so I hadn’t made a something; I’d made an anything. It had just been fun to pinch and push the clay for our hour-long arts and crafts period. Now came the hard part: I needed to identify my project.
“Hmm…” I thought out loud.
Finally, my cabin leader said confidently, “Oh, I see. It’s an ashtray.”
And there it was. The year was 1980, so it was still permissible to make an ashtray. Today, the same object would clearly be a politically correct candy dish or a heart-healthy, hypoallergenic soy nut dish. In any case, it was what it was and there it was. Like most arts-and-crafts projects at camp, it was, more than anything else, an expressive snapshot of my thoughts, feelings, and actions at the time of creation. It was simple and personal. Which is probably why it still sits (sans ashes) on my mother’s writing desk.
Volumes are written about what makes art art and what differentiates art from craft, so instead of writing an essay on aesthetics, I just want to share why I think arts and crafts at camp are so meaningful. In my mind, anything creative and pleasing to the senses can be art. Crafts, on the other hand, are construction skills, often learned through apprenticeship. Naturally, arts and crafts go hand-in-hand. Michelangelo used the craft of stone carving to create pieces of art like David. At camp, children learn crafts such as weaving and woodworking to create pieces of art such as baskets and birdhouses. To what end?
Contemporary conceptualizations of the human mind include the idea of multiple intelligences. Simply put, we have different domains of cognitive strength—such as mathematical, social, verbal, artistic—and those domains complement each other. So combining some athletic and social activities at camp with some arts-and-crafts actually feeds kids’ brains. It’s kind of like intellectual cross-training. The trouble with some camp arts-and-crafts programs is they are either marginalized or mechanized.
Marginalization occurs when the leadership at camp fails to create an atmosphere where art is valued. Arts-and-crafts becomes an “uncool” program activity and few campers attend the lame periods that are offered. The campers who do participate are labeled in ways that suggest they must not be athletic, adventuresome, or heterosexual.
Mechanization occurs when the leadership at camp relies on kits rather than creativity. Arts-and-crafts devolves into campers purchasing nearly-assembled moccasins, birdhouses, wallets, etc. The activity periods—if you want to call them that—involve very little activity besides counselors explaining to kids how to interpret the kit’s assembly directions. Creative juices dry up along with the seed for self-esteem: a genuine sense of accomplishment.
At the best camps, arts-and-crafts programs flourish because the leadership recognizes the value of a balanced program of activities—something that includes athletics, adventure, and art. Equally important, these programs flourish because campers are challenged to refine their crafty skills, solve problems, and create new works. The brains and souls of these children are nourished and the camp staff become actively involved in their mission: to nurture positive youth development. And as an added bonus, some lucky parents and grandparents may get an ashtray—I mean paperweight—on closing day.
This article originally appeared in the Week-Ender blog, a product of Camp Business magazine. To subscribe to this content, visit www.campbusiness.com.