Summer camps help children and teens discover nature, creativity, spirituality and independence

I missed several photographic opportunities as I travelled south of Assiniboia through the prairies on the picturesque 358 to Camp Woodboia on one of the Labour Day weekend’s sunnier days.

Camp Woodboia is a United Church camp situated on the rodeo grounds south of Wood Mountain in Wood Mountain Regional Park.

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I drove into a river about 45 centimetres deep before stopping at Woodboia’s gates and remembered the times spent as a child and teen at James River Bible Camp about 17 kilometres north of Sundre Alberta.

Those days and weeks at James River Bible Camp were important for many reasons in my life. Camps are stressful, exhausting and sometimes overtly structural, but those days at JRBC were also fun, creative, inspiring and memorable. 

Summer camps representing different faiths, hobbies, sports, future professions, academics and for many other reasons are important for children and teens in early development, because camps are adventurous times away from home for short interims from parents and siblings.

Camps are helpful in building a child's independence. Sometimes camps are the first times when children become autonomous of their families for a week or more, living on food at the dining room, cleaning cabins for inspections, singing songs at campfires and ending the evenings with marshmallows and hot cocoa.

Camps are usually structured, so there’s periods of homesickness, but the better camps have enough events in a day to keep the minds of young people occupied.

At James River, we woke up early to the camp bells, ate breakfast, went to chapel, ate lunch, worked on crafts, or did hour long blocks of archery, riflery, swimming, orientation, horseback riding and other activities throughout the day.

Those hours and days in cabins and tents with new friends assisted myself and others to ease into the world of adulthood. At summer camps, we created bonds and friendships, developed new ways of thinking, discovered nature and gained deeper experiences with God, even if we skipped Bible studies and sermons now and then for swims at the river.  

However, those afternoon escapes on inner tubes, coasting through the freezing James over the ripples streaming over knife-edged rocks, through a valley shrouded in pines and poplars, were precious moments with lifelong comrades and were also spiritual in a way too.

All children deserve to attend great camps in the summers, but the COVID-19 pandemic spoiled the 2020 camping season.

Camps are important times for helping children build friendships and social skills, as the campers are living away from home in natural settings surrounded by peers.

This year, camps all over Canada, from the Woolsey Girl Guides Camp in Ontario to Camp Woodboia in Saskatchewan, were cancelled because of COVID-19, disappointing children everywhere.

Camps represent crucial moments in a young person’s life, but 2020 will be remembered for a lack of summer events in general, including those anticipated times away from home, where children are crammed inside cabins with friends, sleeping in bunks inside huts warmed by log stoves, or inside tents with Coleman burners (either providing too much or too little heat) and learning conflict-resolution skills in a world without parents, except for the presence of camp counsellors and staff.

Summer camps are wonderful for children and teens. Seeing and talking to some of the local churchgoers who were working at Camp Woodboia on the Labour Day weekend in preparation for the 2021 camping season proved to be inspiring and encouraging on a hot afternoon in early September, even if the 2020 camping season didn't go as planned.