At a Jewish summer camp in upstate New York, they’re giving kids digital filmmaking classes and telling them to leave their Nintendo Game Boys at home. In Georgia, a camp is encouraging face time with video pen pals rather than time on iPods. In Wisconsin, a camp has traded snail mail for scanned mail.
As technology oozes into every facet of children’s lives, Jewish summer camps are struggling with how to wean kids off their gadgets – at least for the summer – while using technology to improve the camp experience.
“Once upon a time, kids were playing cards at night, but camp is a very different place than it was 40 years ago,” said Rabbi Paul Resnick, director of the Conservative-affiliated Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Wingdale, N.Y. “Camps need to keep up and evolve since technology keeps changing on us.”
Many Jewish camps now have rules banning gadgets such as cellphones, tablets, laptop computers, iPods and gaming devices. B’nai B’rith’s Beber Camp in Mukwonago, Wis., has a no-screen policy. Camp Morasha in Lakewood, Pa., bans any device that can connect to the Internet.
But at the same time, camps are using technologies to their advantage: live streaming events so parents back home can watch, using digital programs to teach Hebrew, uploading photos to the Internet and replacing scanning with snail mail to instantly send the children’s letters to their parents.
Camps are evolving as they try to figure out how to toe the line between enhancing their programs with technology while giving kids a rustic camp experience, Resnick said.
“Policies we implement one summer could be totally different from the next because we are still trying to see what works,” Resnick told JTA. “If you would have asked me three years ago if I’d ever let staff use cellphones in camp, I’d say absolutely not. But last year we started telling staff to text as a way of communication in camp, and it’s actually really efficient.”