Disruptive Moments at Sleepaway Camp 

Posted by Steve Baskin on Jul 25, 2020 2:00:00 PM
Steve Baskin
Find me on:


This article is lifted directly from our Counselor Orientation manual.  I hope you find it interesting.

For years, I have wondered how camp can change lives when we spend so little time here.  Most campers will attend camp only 14-21 days a year as part of "summer enrichment".  Meanwhile, they will go to school for 180 days. Yet when you attend weddings, you often see tons of camp friends.  When people talk about the most powerful experiences of their lives, they often talk about camp.

Why is this true?

People value camp and the people they meet here because camp helps them become the people that they strive to be. And camp does this in a remarkably efficient way.

It starts with your brain.  We are wired to become very attentive whenever we have new and unusual experiences.  Do you remember your first kiss?  How about the first time you met your college roommate? I suspect you remember both in great detail. Bot do you remember you 20th kiss or your 15th conversation with your roommate?  I suspect not.

This is because familiar experiences are not threatening.  We know we will survive them because we have already survived them.  But when an entirely new experience occurs, our brains light up and become highly focused.  We notice and remember more.  Our brain goes from being like a brick to being like a sponge.

When we are in this “sponge-state”, we will absorb and retain our memories, feelings and ideas.  The brick is slow to learn.  The sponge is a learning machine.

I call these new and unfamiliar experiences “disruptive moments”.

One of the reasons camp is powerful is because it is full of these new and unique “disruptive moments”:

  • The first time away from home (for first time campers),
  • Meeting an entirely new cabin of friends and counselors,
  • Climbing the Pirate Ship (especially if you have a fear of heights),
  • Seeing a sky full of stars for the first time,
  • Performing in front of people at a talent show.

Camp has another cool advantage – we know when these disruptive moments are happening. We know when a child’s mind is like a sponge.  This knowledge creates an opportunity.

We can provide a “powerful message” that combines with these “disruptive moments”.

When we know a camper’s mind is like a sponge, we can make sure that the sponge is absorbing lessons that will help the camper build confidence and make him/her feel more competent and successful. 

Think about the story I shared about the counselor that met me as an 8 year-old on my first day of camp.  Facing the prospect of leaving my parents for 5 weeks was a truly disruptive moment.  I was a sponge. Bill (my counselor), got down on one knee, looked me in the eye and delivered the exact message I needed: “You are spectacular and worthy of love and attention.  I cannot wait to know you better”. 

For a child who doubted his self-worth, that message was a lightning bolt of validation.

When we combine enough “disruptive moments” with these “powerful messages”, we can change a camper’s personal narrative. I talk about “narratives” a great deal. Here is what I mean. Your narrative is the set of stories you tell yourself that help you interpret the world.  Some people have powerful and effective narratives:

  • Hard work pays off
  • I am likable
  • If you treat people well, they will treat you well
  • I am lucky
  • I can learn new things
  • Inside of every problem is an opportunity

Others have dysfunctional narratives:

  • You cannot trust other people
  • No one likes me
  • Nothing good ever happens to me
  • I am not good at stuff
  • The world is full of problems that I cannot do anything about
  • You have to look out for yourself, no one else will

Once we have a narrative, we tend to hold onto it. It takes an unusual experience to change these closely held beliefs.  Typically, we do not have many such experiences.

But we do at Camp Champions.  As I wrote above, camp is full of “disruptive moments” that are combined with “powerful messages”.

We know when the moments can happen.

We know what messages our campers need to hear. Some of these messages apply to all campers.  For example, they all benefit from the Great 8 Skills for success in the workplace and in life (learn more about these here: http://blog.campchampions.com/the-great-8).  Other messages are customized for each camper. 


 Steve Sir


Want more like this? See: http://blog.campchampions.com/a-letter-that-has-already-made-this-summer-special