Summer Camp: Where Counseling Theory meets Mission Work


Over the past eight weeks I have been working as the Summer Program/Waterfront/Worship Director at Vanderkamp Christian Summer Camp and Retreat Center. In this role I have learned and experienced first hand how psychological and counseling theory is put into practice when developing camp philosophy. A lot of summer camps have the belief that if there is a focus on the developmental ages and that if you are focused around skill development like building fires, etc. that they have the best programming.

The question I have for them is: What life skills are your campers learning?

At Vanderkamp by focusing on self determination, empathy, and creativity the staff have been able to create an environment where the children are able to have input into the schedule, choose their own activities, have creative unstructured time, and most importantly learn how to communicate efficiently to build a caring and positive community. The challenge comes at having the appropriate number of staff members that are able to pour out their souls into the community by showing unconditional love, compassion, and most importantly guidance for the campers that come to camp. This is where helping empower campers allows them to have buy in into the mission of the camp along with any volunteers that share the mission. At Vanderkamp this summer we have been able to help many campers realize what a positive, non-bullying, and unconditionally loving world can look like because of multiple volunteer staff members this summer.

Yes, Vanderkamp can be considered to have only a few rules but that is because the focus is not restriction but on empowerment.Campers are empowered by allowing them to interact with different age groups, gender identities, intelligences, and social classes. Through these interactions campers learn by determining for themselves  what is important to work on. Choice. Is this not what we want for ourselves as humans? Intrinsic motivation to do what we love and be productive in society in our own unique ways?

When looking back on this summer I realized that in order to empower the children we had to meet them where they are and let them speak through not only through words but play. I could sit here and write about the psychological research on play therapy, person centered therapy, self determination theory, and more but the point I want to get across is that as older human beings children, and others younger than us should be walked with and empowered in their journeys not structured to be what we want them to be or to head in the direction of what we think their life goal should be. We give them the toolbox and see what they build with it.

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