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Joanna Van Eizenga B.A., Lower School Strings and Middle School Orchestra Faculty

Before we know it, summer will be here and many DCDS students will enjoy attending a spectrum of camps, from day camps at school to overnight camps in other parts of the state. Many of our music students attend overnight camps at Blue Lake or Interlochen. Two of our students attended MASTA String Camps last year – and so did one of our teachers.

MASTA – the Michigan Chapter of the American String Teachers Association – has been running overnight camps for orchestra students for decades. The camps are staffed by a director and assistant director who are school orchestra teachers, counselors who are young orchestra teachers or are majoring in music in college, and coaches who are active teachers with master’s degrees in music. I fit into this last category and had the pleasure of teaching middle school students in chamber music groups and orchestra sectionals for a week. I also taught alongside some of the most respected string teachers in Michigan.

Girls playing string instruments on a deck next to a lake

If you have a student in middle school who hasn’t been to overnight camp before, you might be curious about why is it so important to send kids away to camp. Students at MASTA Camp go to gain skill and experience on a string instrument. Yet, there are many types of camps that allow students to dive deeper into a particular area of interest, not just music. Aside from the obvious benefits from spending a week focused on one area, going away to camp offers some benefits that are hard to come by outside of the camp experience. Here are my top three reasons why kids should go to a sleepaway camp.

Kids need to be outside and experience nature. Students at MASTA Camp can participate in swimming, a high ropes course, archery, volleyball and GaGa ball, and a nature walk led by Howell Nature Center staff that includes interactions with wild animals in rehabilitation. They are outside much of the day and the location is truly unparalleled. Summer in Michigan contains its own special magic if you pause to appreciate it, and I’ve witnessed some special moments. Our morning chamber music rehearsals in a little grove by the firepit featured visits by chipmunks, spiders, beetles, birds, dragonflies, and even the occasional deer. When one of my small groups was waiting outside Grindley Hall the night of the chamber music concert, they stood in a line, violins by their sides, and turned to gaze at the sunset over the lake. They stood in contented silence as two sandhill cranes flew overhead and the muted sounds of a cello quartet playing “Eleanor Rigby” seeped through the door. What a beautiful and unparalleled experience these students had!

Kids need to be unplugged and make connections with others. MASTA Camp, like most sleepaway camps, has a strict no-phone policy. During one mealtime, I looked around the cafeteria to see over a hundred students chatting away with no phones and was reminded of how special it is to get away from social media and have uninterrupted face-to-face interactions with others. At camp, kids develop healthy, productive relationships with other students and adults without the distraction of the outside world. When I was in middle school, going away to music camp for a week helped me make life-long friends, and I know the same thing happens at any camp.

Kids need to develop independence. A lot of parents worry about sending their children away for a week, especially for the first time. But overnight camps are a fantastic way for your child to gain independence and become more confident. At camp, kids have trusted adults to guide them, but are expected to communicate and work together with others. An increasing number of studies show that children benefit from experiencing adversity and overcoming it. Spending a week at camp is a chance for kids to cope with and solve problems away from their parents. Campers need to put themselves out there to make friends, try new things, and develop skills, which increases their confidence and self-esteem.

At MASTA Camp, students can show leadership in an orchestra and sectional rehearsals, challenge themselves to try new activities, and learn to work together with others. Campers are expected to keep their bunks and cabins clean, help out at mealtimes, stay organized, and be on time. They leave camp with a sense of accomplishment and connection with a community. Additionally, away camp not only gives students an opportunity to grow but as a teacher I get to expand my teaching and musicianship skills and exchange professional insights with other teachers from around the world. For me, the MASTA Camp has been an important part of my journey as an orchestra teacher as well as a valued experience for all of the students.

Further Reading:
10 Reasons to Send a Kid to Camp

5 Reasons Why Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp

The Benefits of Sending a Child to an Overnight Camp

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