14 Things from Summer Camp We Should Still Be Doing

Like many curly-haired young Jewish girls, I spent my summers singing around a campfire and braiding strings into bracelets at summer camp. Then, I spent a few more years working at summer camp. Beyond the obvious benefits of the job—no rent, free food, zero expenses, all the friends—certain elements of summer camp simply must make their way into everyday life. Changes would be limitless. All the songs would be in harmony. We would all glow golden like sunshine-y 10-year-olds who spend their days tie-dying, splashing each other, and playing fun sports.

Anyway… here are some camp-things we should easily, totally, bring into real life:

1. Lanyards. All. The. Time.


Lanyards are the best. Knotting ropes in perfect patterns are ideal distractions for those with OCD and ADD alike. Lanyards and friendship bracelets encourage finger dexterity, pattern following, and decision making skills (blue then gold then orange??? No, reverse the order!) Top it all off with the resulting friendship bracelets/keychains/zipper pulls/headbands as gifts and décor and you’ve got yourself the perfect stich for your subway ride.

2. Breaking into spontaneous song and dance often. And without irony

My life as a city dweller often feels like a near-constant drown in waves of irony, self-depreciation, and sarcasm. All of those can be really funny, actually, when you get good at it, but we otherwise forget how to let our inner cynics take naps for a while. The cure? Non-ironic song and dance. Perhaps every office building should promote occasional Beyonce breakouts or Fiona Apple flashmobs? Just a suggestion.

3. Living communally

Usually I can’t, wont, and will never agree to share a room. At summer camp, though, bunk beds and late-night storytelling make up for the lack of space. Something about the temporality of this room sharing and merger of, like, four closets into one makes communal living at camp way worth it. Imagine a nightly sleepover with your BFFs every. Single. Day!!!!!! Well, maybe this one isn’t for every day, but why not try it every once in a while? Bonus: Save big on rent.

4. Rest hour

Why don’t we all take mandated naps in the middle of busy days? Why have we never considered a North American siesta? Lunch breaks don’t count. I’ve been asking this q for a while. Still seeking answers.

5. Hair wraps. All day. Everywhere.

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A fashion statement that combines the skills needed for lanyards and the sarcasm-combating vibe of spontaneous singing. Plus, it’s a long-term hair accessory with its own rich history and without any uncomfy past of cultural appropriation (I think, and hope). What else would you put in your hair?

 6. Forced isolation in a specific area for two months

Ha, nah. Just kidding about this one. It often felt like the best part about summer camp (on staff, at least) were the nights off for beers and exploring small towns in the area. But hey, exploring small towns is definitely something we should do more of.

7. Open skill sharing

You can crochet and I can whittle? You know HTML and I can cook a balsamic reduction that you can pass off as your own for your girlfriend? Awesome! Let’s teach each other stuff. All the college-educated people sitting around at home should get up, get out, and share skills. The little things that people know how to do can translate really far.

8. Star-gazing

Q: Can we do this in cities?
A: We can try!

Alt option: Art-gallery gazing.

9. Talent shows, game nights, and age-oriented programming

One of the best parties I ever went to was a murder mystery party in Brooklyn. The creators of the game spent weeks planning characters, designing a plot, and basically creating an entire world for us to enmesh ourselves into. It was awesome. It was so camp. All the camp.

10. Get to know your true self

Susan Sontag, in her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” says “To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role.” And, OK, a (Jewy) summer camp is not necessarily the aesthetic sensibility of Camp she is talking about here. Pontificating aside, maybe we could bring this idea into real life—to recognize the moments when we’re bring fake to friends, ourselves, each other. And strive for moments when life feels real. Could make for some serious reflection around the bonfire. Or the top bunk of the bunk bed.

11. Nature hikes! Lake swim!

Harriman state park is about 40 minutes outside of New York City. The New York Botanical Gardens (in the Bronx!) has Chiluly glass on display until the end of the summer. There are parks, gardens, and protected green spaces all over the place and close to cities—we should be doing more felid trips! There aren’t many problems that a few hours hiking in the woods can’t fix. Or at least serve as good distractions.

12. Going tech free for most of the day

Goodness, this is the best. When no one is on their phones, you don’t have to be, either! Just try it: leave your phone at home all day. Why can’t this work outside of camp?

13. Tick checks (sorta)

At some camps, campers need to do tick checks every night, where counselors physically inspect the visible parts of campers’ bodies for ticks and other small bugs. Why don’t we expand this definition as a sort of body and soul check-in every night? I want a slightly older mentor (or glorified babysitter) to check in with me. Who knows what type of weird diseases I could have contracted while trawling the subway system, or, say, the wild woods of OKCupid?

14. Bonfires.

Enough said.


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