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Eagle River, Wisconsin

What’s So Special About Camp Anyway?


Have you all heard about REI’s new campaign, #optoutside? The retailer has decided to close their stores on Black Friday in order to give their employees time to head outside with their families and friends. And they’re even paying them to do so! What do you think of this? Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Black Friday so I love it, but I can see where the day has become a tradition for many and is the jumping off point for the start of the holiday season and all of the fun and festivities it brings. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, there is no denying that this campaign, whether a publicity stunt or rooted in a real passion for getting people outside and moving, brings a lot of good attention to a problem that is facing our society these days: a lack of connection to nature and one another.

In recent years, there have been all sorts of studies conducted on how our busy, tech-driven lifestyles are affecting our health and wellness; from increased levels of depression and anxiety to lower levels of intrinsic motivation and goal-setting to decreased resilience in college students and an inability to form relationships. At a professional development conference I attended, a great portion of the breakout sessions were devoted to the topic of mental, emotional and social health of campers and staff. This has become such a hot topic that the American Camp Association is dedicating the next phase of their Healthy Camps Initiative to this very issue. There is even a term for some of what we’re seeing, “nature-deficit disorder.” This phrase was coined by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which deals with the disconnect between children and the outdoors and what we can do to help bridge this divide. All of these things have me thinking a lot lately about the true value of a summer at camp and what we’re doing at Nicolet to help our campers and staff have the types of experiences that will aid in their development outside of the camp world.

What are some of those things, you ask? Let me tell you. 🙂

  • We provide a natural environment in which campers and staff are encouraged to mentally and physically interact with the world around them. Whether spending time on the lake, up at the stables, or hiking the trails on camp property, they are spending time outdoors and gaining all the benefits of personal growth that come along with it. In addition, they are unconsciously developing an understanding of and relationship with nature.
  • We encourage “digital detox.” With a no-technology policy in place, we create a space which alleviates the onslaught of demands for our camper’s time and attention. They are able to focus on themselves and their relationships with the people directly in front of them.
  • We offer the opportunity for campers to feel a sense of personal control and ownership. Through the introduction of our free-choice schedule, we’re giving them the chance to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and find their own sense of intrinsic (internal) motivation.
  • We promote healthy risk-taking. Our campers are given the opportunity to try things that they may not have been able to outside of camp, such as waterskiing or horseback riding. More than that, they are able to fail in a safe, supportive environment that focuses more on the attempt than the outcome.
  • We foster resiliency. In the event that a camper does not succeed at reaching a goal or completing a task, we encourage them to get back up and try again, without stepping in to do it for them. As Confucius once said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
  • We allow time for free play. The freedom to just play and explore helps to teach campers how to solve problems on their own, develop their own interests, and put their imaginations and creativity to the test.
  • We inspire a judgement-free zone. Regardless of what is going on in the “real world,” our campers and staff are able to come to camp and leave it all behind for a brief moment in time. They are able to go make-up free, dress up in silly costumes and sing crazy camp songs. All with no judgement, and to be honest, quite a lot of encouragement!
  • We are a family. The inherent nature of camp and our focus at CN on “Learning to Live Together” fosters a sense of connection and shared purpose that very few environments outside of the camp community can duplicate.

So, as you can see, the benefits of camp are many and varied…and this is just the tip of the iceberg! Whether you choose to #optoutside this Thanksgiving weekend or shop ‘til you drop, I hope you will carry with you the value of camp and an understanding of our goals for your camper’s experience at Camp Nicolet each summer.

Have a wonderful holiday season!



“Camp is where you can learn who you are and always be yourself. Whether you are  silly, introverted, loud, musical, sporty, goofy or quiet,–you are accepted and appreciated for who you are and who you want to be.” – Camp Nicolet Alumna

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