At OSRUI, the Reform movement overnight camp in Oconomowoc, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cell phone over the summer.
“We are screen free,” said Director Solly Kane of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute. “Campers are allowed to have a music player if it just displays the name of the song.”
Kane said this works well. Kids sometimes want to listen to music during a rest hour. But camp is not a place for escaping into another world.
“We believe at camp that relationships are built face-to-face,” Kane said. “Camp is a place where we get to put aside the electronics and have the conversation person-to-person.”
There is a media program at camp, for kids who sign up for it. But even this is just a blocked-off section of time and it’s for doing things like making videos. There’s no Internet access.
Kids can write letters home – instead of texting – and though the letters can be sent digitally, they’re still letters. “There’s something special about not having the instant communication that we have all year,” Kane said. “It’s still very different from texting and social media.”
Counselors are allowed to have phones and other electronic devices at camp, but they are asked to not have them out when they are working and around the campers.
“I think that camp is one of the rare places in today’s world where kids get to be fully present in the place that they are. It’s not about who posted what on social media,” Kane said. “It’s about the connections and the relationships and the experiences at camp.”