Campfire Notes

The Magic of The Campfire

The Magic of The Campfire

by Andy “Soy” Moeschberger

My single favorite time of day at camp is campfire. Every night each of our 31 cabins has its own campfire unless the cabin is at a social (a campfire with another cabin) or our dance. Why do I love this time of day so much? In part because I love the smell of woodsmoke. In part because it means the day is winding down and I’ll be in bed within the next 3 hours. But mostly because of the magic.

What could be so magical about a campfire? Some logs, some pine needles, a match, and some popcorn. That’s simple and fun, but it isn’t magic.

I beg to differ. I think that the time spent around a campfire is magic. It’s transformational and powerful in the way that nothing else I have experienced in my life is. When a group of 10 friends is gathered around the flickering flames under a blanket of stars they can and will share truths that are more lasting and meaningful than if they were in a game room or around a dining room table.

But why? What is it about the campfire that makes this possible? Well, maybe it isn’t magic. Maybe it’s science. According to a study from the University of Alabama, adults who were exposed to a “fire with sound condition” (a video of a fire with the sound turned on) showed lower blood pressure and increased “prosocial” behaviors (such as smiling, making eye contact and engaging in conversation). And that was a VIDEO of a campfire with an adult by themselves! The authors hypothesize that this is an evolutionary development. They believe that for ancient humans the fire provided warmth and a way to cook, and also signaled the safety of numbers. Our ancient forerunners knew that by being around the campfire they could relax. Even a millennium after we moved indoors, our minds still subconsciously know that a fire is a place where we are safe.

Children need this more than ever today. The pressures of the world increasingly weigh on young people. If they can have an opportunity to feel, like the cavemen of old, relaxed and safe, then they can begin to become their best selves. The campfire is a natural way to do that. As I tell our graduating campers at their Paddle Ceremony, the most meaningful moments of their camp careers probably occurred around a campfire. 

Many camps have only occasional campfires, or “flashlight” fires. While there are benefits to that, we know the nightly practice of an actual campfire is important. Our counselors are trained specifically on campfires. The training is far more than how to stack the logs and what the ideal marshmallow looks like. Indeed, they practice in our training how to lead a meaningful discussion around the fire. They lead campers in sharing their highs and lows of the day. They help to facilitate discussions about real life topics that campers are interested in or struggling with.

On our last night of camp, we gather for an all-camp campfire that we call Appreciation Campfire. There are songs and stories and skits. Off to the side of our amphitheater (which we call Big Campfire!), there is a campfire pit, where the logs crackle away merrily. As the night winds down, the flames grow lower and lower. At the end of the night, counselors share their appreciation for their cabins by candlelight as the last embers of the campfire glow.

That’s just a last tiny piece of magic before we go home.  

Counselors at Gold Arrow Camp, a summer camp in California, light candles to show their appreciation for their campers

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“Camplifying” the World with Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association

“Camplifying” the World with Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association

Sunshine Parenting Ep. 98: “Camplifying” the World with Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association.

In Episode 98 of the Sunshine Parenting Podcast, Audrey “Sunshine” Monke chats with Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association. Sunshine and Tom talk about research about the positive impact of camp and their joint passion for partnering with parents to bring camp to schools and homes. Tom uses Sunshine’s new favorite word, “camplify,” to describe this spreading of the positive camp message to venues outside of camp.

Topics & Ideas Discussed

  • There are an estimated 14 million kids going to camps in the U.S. this summer.
  • Ninety-three percent of American Camp Association camps offer financial aid and scholarships for campers. Parents need to work well in advance to apply for those resources.
  • Parents can use the ‘Find A Camp’ tool on the American Camp Association’s website to search for the ACA accredited camps. This is a parent’s best assurance that a camp has met the foundational standards of a safe and healthy camp experience for their child.
  • There are many different kinds of camps. There are camps for specific cultural groups, for kids with a particular medical disorder, for kids with a specific area of interest, and many, many more.
  • It’s important for parents to visit a summer camp before sending their child to one so that they can see what camp is all about.
  • At camp, kids have the opportunity to learn to be themselves, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and try again.
  • The American Camp Association website provides wonderful videos and other resources for parents.
  • Camp helps kids build relationship skills and learn from people with different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Camp is about positive risk.
  • The more kids put into their camp experience, the more they get out of it.
  • People who been camp counselors before becoming teachers or parents really have an advantage when it comes to relating to kids.
  • Camp techniques work at home too.
  • On Tuesday, July 20, camps across America will be celebrating Camp Kindness Day.

Camp Kindness Day

On July 20, 2021, the camp community will participate in Camp Kindness Day – an event highlighting the practice of intentional kindness that happens every day at American camps. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of the great work that camps are doing to teach kindness in engaging, simple, repeatable, and high impact ways that live on in the daily lives of campers and staff members when they return home.

Focusing on our youth and young adults, Camp Kindness Day will help showcase the commitment of the camp community to fostering the core values of kindness, compassion, generosity, and care, and integrating those values more fully into every aspect of our society. These values are already part of the fabric of the camp experience. We share the mission for our youth to be nurtured, taught, supported, and inspired to grow into our new generation of kind, compassionate, socially-minded, community-oriented citizens.

Camp Kindness Day will allow camps to incorporate into their July 20 programming fun theme-based activities and cooperative games, cool projects, and memorable moments which will celebrate the value and impact of kindness.

About Tom Rosenberg, CEO of the American Camp Association

Tom Rosenberg has a distinguished career in the camp profession and a long resume of service to ACA. He most recently served as the executive director of Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Prior to Camp Judaea, Tom spent more than two decades with Blue Star Camps in North Carolina, most of those years as a director. Tom is a past national treasurer and board member of the ACA as well as a past board president and treasurer of ACA Southeastern. A founding board member of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association, Tom was awarded the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Camp Industry Leadership Award as well as the American Camp Association’s National Honor Award and ACA Southeastern’s Distinguished Service Award.

With an educational focus in business, Tom graduated with distinction from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California with an MBA and from the AB Freeman School of Business at Tulane University with a BS in Management. He is also a graduate of ACA’s Camp Director Institute.

Tom melds his experience in the camp profession with business expertise, inspirational vision, successful fundraising experience, professional agility, organizational skills, and strategic focus — attributes that are essential to achieving success as ACA’s President/CEO. We are indeed fortunate to have such a thoughtful, dedicated, and experienced leader who is willing to take his commitment to camp, youth development, and ACA to a greater level. Tom, his wife Pam Sugarman, and their son Daniel live in Atlanta, Georgia.


Parent Blog (ACA)

Find a Camp (ACA’s searchable database)

Accreditation (ACA Standards)

Kindness Evolution

July Kindness Calendar

HAPPY CAMPERS is now on Audible!

Ep. 87: The Impact of Camp Experiences

Ep. 46: Camp Kindness Day (2018)

Research Finds Children Learn Social Skills at Camp

5 Reasons Not to Worry While Your Kids are at Camp

The Power of Kindness

Too Much Screen Time? 4 Ways Summer Camp Can Help


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