Can summer camps revive the lost art of letter writing?
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Forget plain old 12-point black Helvetica. Bubbly, heart-dotted letters in shimmery orange or shiny purple reign queen. And banish the image of a simple white screen on which to write. Netimus girls reach for neon green sheets or cards imprinted with cheetah spots and glitter-showered pink flip-flops.
Forget plain old 12-point black Helvetica. Bubbly, heart-dotted letters in shimmery orange or shiny purple reign queen. And banish the image of a simple white screen on which to write. Netimus girls reach for neon green sheets or cards imprinted with cheetah spots and glitter-showered pink flip-flops. At this 80-year-old traditional residential camp for girls in the Pocono Mountains, and at thousands more around the USA, connecting with Mom and Dad requires licks — of stamps and envelopes — not clicks. The medium for talking to Muddah and Fadduh is a message from the past.
The hand-scribbled, shoebox-worthy letter may seem as anachronistic as archery and A/C-free living, but at sleepaway camp, where directors have largely succeeded in keeping two-way texting and e-mail at bay, it thrives. The practice of putting colored pencil to notebook paper is "old-fashioned," says Ruby Auman, 11, swinging her legs from her blond wood bunk, where her wall is papered with an ink-printed "of course I'm thinking of you" reply from her mom 2½ hours away in Lewisburg, Pa. "But it's not old-fashioned while you're here."
One reason for swapping a life of zip files for one of ziplines is to practice face-to-face — and pen-to-pen — communication, says Darlene Calton, a Netimus director (and alumna). "There are so many little life lessons you get at camp that are not necessarily learning how to climb on the ropes course. It's about writing letters home and solving problems by yourself" — instead of texting or calling parents and friends every five minutes to seek advice or to vent. During a Netimus camper's two- to seven-week stay, directors encourage at least one letter home a week, though more prolific girls might write three a day. Cellphones are considered contraband; if one creeps in, it gets a vacation in the camp office. And computers are as exotic as boys.
"Camp is a place for kids to practice growing up, and when they become adults, they will need to string together more than 140 characters," Coleman says, alluding to Twitter's character limit. With basic letter-writing techniques shoved further down school curricula, "where else are they learning to address an envelope? If camp is this expanded learning environment, letter writing is the touchstone of that learning experience."