Outdoor play helps children develop imagination, social skills, and creativity (source). On the other hand, a lack of time spent playing outside has also been linked to higher obesity rates and Vitamin D deficiency, among other health issues (source). Even beyond these factors, it makes sense that for children to thrive, they need to be provided with opportunities for exploratory play and controlled risk-taking. Through interacting with peers and their environment in a setting outside of the structure of the home or classroom, children construct their identities and sense of self. If outdoor play is so vital and often neglected, what can we do to ensure that children aren’t missing out?
Over the past few days I’ve had the privilege of spending time with St. George’s Camp Session I and Explorer’s Camp Session I. These sessions have some of our youngest campers on the mountain, and watching them experience camp, many for the first time, it’s easy to see that they are eager to explore, play, and test their boundaries. They run through the ball field, climb the playground, trek through the mountain trails, collect leaves, sticks, and rocks, and shout at the top of their lungs. Counselors are there to act as facilitators, leaders, and role models. It’s obvious that these campers are never going to forget the time they spent at camp under the shade of oak trees or with their toes in a natural spring. That’s why at every camp opening, counselors remind campers and parents alike to leave the cell phones and WiFi-capable devices in the car, so that our campers can be fully present in the experience of being at Shrine Mont. Here, we make face-to-face friends, not just Facebook ones.
Camp provides one of the few opportunities this generation of children has to engage in the type of creative, free outdoor play that used to be a cultural norm. We can only hope that the benefits of spending time outdoors stays with our campers as they return to the valley of the world. Last week I visited St. George’s Camp during morning electives, where the Arts and Crafts group was painting rocks. When I started talking to campers about how they wanted to paint their particular rock, several told me they wanted to “paint Shrine Mont.” One camper explained, “I want to paint mine to look like the mountains and then I can take Shrine Mont home with me.” What does it look like to take Shrine Mont home with you? It definitely looks like sharing the love of God we experience here, the sense of community we instill in our campers, and the Christian values we foster. Maybe it can also look like taking the time to enjoy a beautiful summer day outdoors, instead of in the air conditioning and plugged in to the nearest outlet.
By Ruth Shuford