My first grader recently complained that he was bored at school and my wife and I are now tasked with convincing him that school is not boring and that he needs to get with the program and do his work. One small problem: my son can tell when I’m lying.
For many people, school is not a positive experience
I spent 12 years of my childhood watching the clock slowly grind (sometimes backwards) till 3:45 — and I wasn’t even a terrible student. I consider myself relatively motivated and intellectually curious (I studied for years in yeshiva and hold a BA and a JD), but the happiest day of my life next to my wedding and the birth of my children was graduating high school. I felt like a released prisoner.
By the time I graduated I was feeling burnt out on Judaism, which was unfortunate, because I was about to spend a year of intensive Talmud study in yeshiva in Israel.
Should we be investing more in summer camp?
Summer camp, by comparison, was a far more positive experience for me. I went to a variety of Jewish summer camps from Young Judaea, NCSY and Benei Akiva and each one impacted my Jewish identity, not just my ability to steer a canoe. My two years as a counselor in Camp Stone were so spiritually uplifting that I promised myself that if I ever made any serious cash, I would give it to mahaneh. My children, who attended Moshava Ba-Ir over the last two summers, did not just have fun in the pool — they had experiences that helped shape a positive Jewish identity.
Last week, the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education in partnership with Foundation for Jewish Camp brought together experts –researchers, philanthropists and camp directors — for a panel conversation where they asked, not only how the camp magic is made, but how can that magic be replicated? How can we improve the summer camp experience?
We, as a community, focus so much of our time and capital asking how we can make our schools more effective. Camp, because it’s only eight weeks (at its longest), often takes a back seat to day schools in terms of perceived importance and impact. But the true measure of impact should be quality, not quantity. I’m glad to see CASJE and the Foundation for Jewish Camp getting a broader conversation started not only to improve summer camps, but to get schools to take note from the camps as to how the magic is made.