Admittedly, I never made it to a ‘traditional camp’ until I was a parent. We moved duty stations during summers, and if we didn’t, we were ‘free range kids,’ amped with self reliance, creative spunk, and behavior tethered by emotional rather than electronic ties to our parents.
By the time I made it to camp by chaperoning scouts, eco adventures, and teaching wildlife to brownies, the whole camp thing had shifted to a personal “experience” where kids could track their own interests versus the ‘sampler pack’ approach of ‘do it all, see what sticks.’
One peek at a site like KidsCamps.com and you’ll find every specialized niche market imaginable, from sports, special needs, and academics to Microsoft’s DigiGirlz foray into techno prowess and STEM. Kind of limiting though, when societal trends towards specialization apply to kids (e.g. some track into “their sport” early on and show up ‘seasoned’ by second grade; sheesh; what’s the rush?) Why narrowcast likes and dislikes so early on when kids haven’t even been exposed to a full spectrum of choices?
Seems more like clipping fledgling wings rather than stretching them; especially when it comes to summer camp, the ‘sampler pack’ of activities in all kinds of flavors of fun…
Today’s guest post by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals, (the teeshirt company that’s “Redefining Girly”) ratchets this up a notch by focusing on gender segmentation that pigeon-holes possibilities via newly minted “pirate” and “princess camps”…segregating wee ones even further.
In an era of innovation and digital creativity, with brilliant minds thinking ‘out of the box,’ why are young parents stuffing kids back into the stereotypes box without a blink or a question?
To me, it sells kids short with “either/or” thinking rather than “and/also” possibilities.
Really, it does. Read the research.
Turning to basic media literacy inquiry I have to ask the obvious…who’s creating the story to begin with?
Whose fantasy play is this? Who stands to win or lose by the perpetuation of these mythologies? (Just sayin’…)
Predefining roles, rules, cues, shoulds-n-coulds make me wanna bust through the barriers and ‘switch sides’ just to toss indie spirit into the mix and make waves. How many children are feeling like that? My guesstimate is very few, because the ‘die is cast’ by the creators of the camps in tonality, brand, and imposed restrictions crammed into a very tiny lil’ pink or blue backpack!
Granted, camps are mega buck businesses nowadays with many dual-working parents planning their summer slate in Excel spreadsheet splendor as the New Year begins just ‘to get them in’ to the best offerings so they’re not stuck twiddling thumbs in a lame, less-productive summer camp experience, coughing up cash for a place junior doesn’t even want to be.
But in some ways, it seems like we’re going backwards rather than forwards in child development when “camps” become nothing more than marketing bonanzas and gender divisions that draw fictional lines in the sand between the sexes in “us and them” thinking.
We might as well be “playing war,” in a battle of the sexes. Senseless, I say. Thank gawd I’m not alone…
Here’s Melissa with her strident, straightforward take on what I call the “scary fairy syndrome” as I commented in her original post, “I’m frankly surprised marketers haven’t started hawking ‘pink camping camo and canteens for a ‘girl spin’ on ‘ruggedness’ since it seems nothing can just ‘be’ without a gender defining ‘bow in the hair, long lashes, or other telltale signs of foisted identity into kids’ mindshare. (oops, oh, wait, they have!)
Between obesity issues of kids sitting vs. romping and the pink and blue segmentation of pre-defined gender interests (again, media defining kids before they can define themselves) it’s high time we quit usurping childhood into a “market opportunity segment” and let kids choose through their own love of discovery, exposure to new different scenarios, and choices and opportunities.
If it’s princesses, fine. Pirates, okay…just level the playing field and make a case for make-believe without interfering in the exploration process. Same gender issues apply with robotics, rocket building, and technology camps…Or cooking, video-producing, or arts endeavors…It doesn’t need to be pink or blue, people!
These are NOT boy VS girl ‘either/or issues,’ they are universally equal interest areas…IF we leave them alone and allow them to choose interests without skewing the focus. Bah. Here’s Melissa with more:
What the Hell Happened to Summer Camp?
by Melissa Wardy, CEO of PigtailPals
You know, when I was a kid, summer meant lemonade stands, trips to the library, afternoons at the swimming pool, bike riding everywhere, and overall free lancing until it was time to come home for a late dinner. Throw in some sailing and annual trips to visit the cousins in Toledo….It was grand. It was all very Norman Rockwell-ian and exactly as it should have been.
And there were the weeks I went to camp. Brownie Day Camp. Girl Scout Camp. YMCA Day Camp. Band Camp (shut up). Sailing Camp. Student Council Camp. Then there was the six years I was a camp counselor at the YMCA Day Camp I had grown up at. I spent so many summers having adventures and living outdoors and enjoying nature that I gave Laura Ingalls Wilder a run for her money.
I loved all of it – being outside, hiking through the woods, teaching sports to kids, dumb camp songs, river walks, arts & crafts, cooking on a campfire, swimming, boating, preparing skits for Parents Night, the sound of the cabin door creaking open, All-Camp Capture The Flag, throwing frogs at lifeguards, the epic 160 foot slip-n-slide we made with pool covers and dish soap….even the underwear on the flagpole.
You know, S-U-M-M-E-R C-A-M-P. The kind with bugs.
A few weeks ago my mother sent me a letter in the mail. It has a yellow sticky note on it, which means she thinks it is something serious and the sticky note bears her warnings and forebodings. In college this would have been articles on STDs and binge drinking and the importance of antioxidants. But these days, in my matured adulthood, it means one thing and one thing only: Sexualization & Gender Stereotypes.
I read her note that says: “Pigtail Pals needs to become a corporate sponsor for this camp and redirect curriculum.” Huh, I thought. I actually used to run this community day camp the summer after I graduated from high school. What could have possibly become so awful about it?
Did you digest all of that? Let’s break this down:
Girls: For ages 4 and up, those girls whose dreams are wild and daring enough to be an “aspiring princess” get to go up to the school, sit in the gym, make capes and craft tiaras for themselves and their favorite doll, learn a princess dance, wear a princess dress, and attend a tea party and something of a debutante ball.
Boys: For ages 4 and up, Adventure Camp! They will explore Ravine Park, go fishing, sports day, Olympics day, they will venture away from the school gym and embark on safe adventures all around the village.
In fact, the boys will become such Masters of the Universe that they only meet at the school for the first day, after which their grandness takes them to locations and activities so exciting they cannot be named in the community newsletter.
Summer Camp for girls should look like this (images from Rachel Simmon’s Girl Leadership Institute, where even I want to be a camper!)
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO SUMMER CAMP??? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO SUMMER CAMP!!!
Girls sitting in a gym doing arts & crafts on what is really a glorified play date with princess dresses and tea parties DOES NOT a summer camp experience make.
What it does make is Stepford Wives. What of the girls who are ages 4 and up and do not aspire to be princesses or learn a princess dance? What of the girls who can kill it on the soccer field and rip into a softball? What of the girls whose eyes shine at the thought of adventure and tromping through the woods? What of the girls who enjoy the sound of waves lapping gently at the shore while they wait for a tug on their fishing line?
For that matter, what of the boys who are interested in textile and fashion design and prefer less testosterony-Gladiator-like afternoons? What of the boys who enjoy choreographed dance and storytelling?
Not a single one of us gals grew up to become a freaking princess. Not a one.
We grew up to become teachers, lawyers, investigators, social workers, doctors, mothers, business women, chefs, policy makers & legislators, finance and accounting gurus, artists, writers…you get the idea.
If girls want to play with dolls and have tea parties, that is darling. My own four year old daughter loves to seat all of her plush toys and dolls around a little table in her room and host an afternoon tea at which she serves buttons, pennies, and nickels. And she loves art. And dance. and storytelling.
She also loves sports. And fishing. And exploring and adventure walks and all of the things that this tiny village seems to think requires stratification between the genders.
Couldn’t there have been a way to have Castle Camp (instead of Princess Camp), where the children of BOTH genders, design their own castles using recycled materials like boxes and paper towel rolls and construction paper?
Or draw castle dragons and coat of arms on giant rolls of butcher paper? Create mosaic crowns? Participate in Royal Field Day where there are egg rolls and wheelbarrow races and waterballoon tosses? What about create a menu and songs for a castle feast where everyone dances after the dragon is captured?
And why does the exploration of Kohler Village necessitate the having of a penis? Couldn’t both genders attend Adventure Camp? I do not have a penis and I spent my entire youth getting eaten by mosquitos while I built forts in the woods, caught crayfish in Ravine Park, played soccer and baseball at Upper Lost Woods Park, and rode my bike to Woodlake to get ice cream and feed the fish stale bread.
Summer camp and the experiences it gives children for exploration, pushing boundaries, friendship making, leadership training, learning about nature, skill development, and overall providing of new opportunities should not be squandered and packaged into Pink and Blue Boxes.
We should never limit and label our children.
We should NEVER teach them to do it to each other.
About Melissa: Melissa is “Redefining Girly” as CEO of Pigtail Pals, and making change along with a pack of leaders in our newly emerging Confidence Community headed up byActionist Network role model Jess Weiner.
My favorite line from Melissa’s blog bio is about raising Amelia “…Free of binary, stereotyped gender roles and regressive toys that teach her to sit still and be pretty for men. Or worse, pout, strut, and gyrate for them. No, thanks. Not for my child. Preferably, not for yours.”
She’s a force to be reckoned with and I’m proud to share her spirited prose on Shaping Youth today, which originally appeared on her blog here this morning.
About the Every Girl, Every Boy Poster: This is my latest purchase from my fave folks at Reach and Teach.com, a peace and social justice learning company advocating for human rights for all. I think you can read it in the size I plopped in, but it leads off: “For every girl who is tired of acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable…and goes on to make some poignant points that all of us have seen/heard on playgrounds or in our own lives over the years.
It’s now up on my wall as a reminder that it is NOT an either/or world but an interdependent, inclusive one…The only ‘battle’ is not between the sexes, it is a fight for the hearts and minds of our children, to be free of narrowcast, limited stereotypes that have fouled up many a family over time. Check ’em out. They’ve got some stellar teaching tools that ‘speak the truth’ and open up great conversations.
My Little Hen: “Be a Preservationist of Childhood Summers” Read here.
Rachel Simmons (with Michael Thompson: “Putting Camp In the Childhood Equation” Read here.
Parenting Pink: “Tips for a Fun & Productive Summer With Your Daughter” Read here.
The Achilles Effect: “Is it 1950 Again? Princess Camp for Girls, Adventure Camp for Boys” Read here.
Michele Borba: Camp Homesickness? Research/Parenting Tips to Ease Transitions Read here
Must Reads on Gender, Media/Marketing & Kids
Visual Credits: Pink Tents: One Stop Festival.com, Camp Logo/Chiffon Tents: BlueManTeeshirts.com, Pink Coleman Lantern: SummitCampingGear.com,