Psychologists see value in adults making the return to summer camp

Adults can head back to camp and play games like tug-of-war, just like they did as kids. (Thinkstock)
Adults can head back to camp and play games like tug-of-war, just like they did as kids. (Thinkstock)

An increasing number of Canadian grown-ups are seeking fun and frivolity at adult-only summer camps, where tapping into your inner child takes place without fear of reprimand, time outs or the dreaded stink eye.

That’s a big part of the appeal for those 18 and over who are signing up and paying, in some cases, several hundred dollars for weekend and week-long camp vacations. Essentially, these organized camps give adults a free pass to goof off unabashedly.

“It’s a way to shed your professional self and be a kid again,” says Danielle Goldfinger, founder of Two Islands Weekend, a camp that mixes alcohol and food with canoeing, beach volleyball and yoga. “When kids go to camp they meet the best pals of their lives and this is a way to facilitate that kind of bonding.”

Nostalgia for creating tie-dyed t-shirts and joining in sing-alongs around a bonfire prompted Goldfinger, a seasoned camper as a child, to establish her grown-up version in Haliburton two summers ago. To assess interest, the 35-year-old Toronto fundraiser decided to conduct an informal survey with friends. The response to questions such as how do you feel about bunking with your buddies was overwhelmingly positive and Two Islands Weekend was born.

Besides being fun, reliving our childhood thanks to organized events like camp can provide a profound sense of self-learning and healing, says Lydia Willems, a London-based psychotherapist who specializes in inner child therapy.

“It gives us permission to go beyond our natural boundaries and limitations and experience life as a wonderful experience,” she says. “We want to experience joy and that moment of shock and surprise and scariness. Our inner child is about being curious, joyful, fun and mysterious – all the things most people would experience going to these camps.”

Willems thinks people today are largely and uniquely more self-expressive than ever before and as a result more inclined to want to experiment and try new things such as reliving their childhood as adults.

“The possibilities of exploration and play are great. There are more options now and more people are talking about this and it’s giving people more permission to step outside of their boxes.”

Whether you’re looking to acquire new skills such as water skiing, learn the latest culinary techniques or simply pamper yourself with spa treatments, there’s likely a camp that will cover your interest or predilection. Choose from music camp, weight-loss camp, arts and crafts camp, survival skills camp, hockey camp, equestrian camp, LGBTQ-friendly camp, grandparents’ camp and many more.

And if a once-a-year camp event isn’t enough for you, there’s an adult pre-school program in Brooklyn, N.Y., where grown-ups pay hundreds of dollars to try and evoke the magic of childhood daily. Show-and-tell, naps and play dough each factor into the scheduled activities.

Newmarket psychotherapist Sabine Cox believes these camps appeal to adults as an easy and accessible means to unwind and escape from the rat race. Since many Canadians only get a few weeks of vacation annually, they’re happy to let someone else plan their meals and activities for them.

“I do think this is the first generation that hasn’t really been allowed to be on their own very much,” says Cox. “Ever since 9-11, the world is so much more fearful. People in their twenties and early thirties grew up under that fear so they only learned to have structured fun in groups and adult camp is a logical step to do that again.”

As adults we often forget how to play and how to find magic and wonderment in our everyday lives, says Cox. Our world, she says, has become increasingly reliant on materialism, factual knowledge and the need for everything to be proven. Adult camps and pre-schools are a dedicated effort at trying to recapture our playful, silly and awestruck side.

“Accept that not everything can be proven factually,” says Cox. “And even if it can be, know that you don’t have to prove it. That’s a good start. An exercise I give my clients is to write down five beautiful things you’ve seen each day. It could be a smile on a child’s face or a beautiful sky. That’s where wonderment starts and where joy is.”

For Ronit Rubenstein, attending adult camp was definitely linked to reliving her youth. Her first adult camp, where she zip lined and played Capture the Flag, was her first ever camp experience.

“I’m Jewish and I joke that I’m the only Jew from Montreal who didn’t go to sleep away camp as a child,” says the Toronto teacher and playwright. “I had some great regrets about that. It’s a nice escape to get away from the responsibilities of real life for a weekend. It’s nice to pretend to be kid again.”

While many adults have never heard of summer camps for grown-ups, some camps have existed for a very long time. Temagami’s Canadian Adventure Camp has been hosting an adult camp for 38 years. Camp director Skip Connett says interest in adult camp has grown in recent years thanks to campers wanting a mix of adventure, skills and those looking to recapture their youth. One couple attended camp because they wanted to better relate to their grandchildren, who were already adept at different water sports.

“I think it’s interesting that adults can learn to water ski or kayak with other supportive adults,” says Connett. “They might feel inadequate learning with children who often get it right away. At adult camp you’re on a level playing field and you actually get cheered on by your adult camp friends.”

If your tastes lean more toward intellectual pursuits Quest University in Squamish, B.C. offers a more cerebral summer retreat that combines nature with luxurious campus accommodations as well as food for the tummy and brain. This year’s crop of 20 campers included educators, parents of students and a number of politicians. The in-class portion focused on global warming.

Now in its third season, Zombie Survival Camp, in which participants learn how to fend for themselves in a simulated zombie outbreak near Peterborough, Ont., appeals to our desire for fun, fear and adventure, says camp founder Eric Somerville.

“We’re in a shift away from material possessions,” he says. “I think people are more interested in seeking out experiences. It adds to the dinner-party experience because it’s something good to talk about.”