When spending summer at a camp, children’s first thoughts typically center around the great outdoors, swimming, crafts, campfires and cabins. There are no city lights, no bustling sounds – only nature.

But, that experience has been changing with the increase in technology.

The Lillian and Betty Ratner Camp in Pepper Pike and Falcon Camp in Carrollton have started using technology in their camp programs to not only involve it as something that children would be familiar with, but as a learning tool in traditional camp activities.

Pat Carey-Bell, camp director of The Lillian and Betty Ratner 3-6 Camp, said that the camp uses technology in many ways as a learning tool for toddlers, mostly to begin studying nature and animals.

“In our programming, technology provides a glimpse of different locations, the students are able to watch animals in their native biome doing what they do naturally,” Carey-Bell said. “Since our camp is based on different biomes and the creatures that live in them, we use technology to view those biomes and look at how the creatures move and live within the biome.”

She said children and instructors have access to smartphone technology to answer questions that may arise during observation of animals or plants. The school where the camp is held, The Lillian and Betty Ratner School, has a curriculum that includes botany and zoology, so the camp plays upon this to include in the camper’s studies.

“Gardening is a part of the camp and the students search the grounds on a daily basis to capture and release,” Carey-Bell said. Allowing smartphone use to identify creatures attaches any new language immediately.”

Dave Devey, director and owner of Falcon Camp, said that the camp tries to make sure campers are without technology while at camp – meaning no access to cell phones or social media – because it’s important for personal growth. However, he said technology has a place in camp, but only as a teaching tool for certain activities within a camper’s schedule.

“For example, in creative arts activities, children can choose to learn about digital photography while at camp,” Devey said. “They learn how to use a computer to retouch photos, make videos and come up with scripts for films and plays they can record.

“The making of the videos is a really cool aspect of (Falcon Camp). Our campers stay longer at camp than other camps, so they can work longer on the activity and have more of an opportunity to learn about the tools they are interested in.”

As for general camp use, Devey said the technological age makes it easier for the camp to predict the weather by checking conditions online for daily and weekly forecasts, which helps with planning for outdoor activities. Parents also can send their children emails instead of letters, which get printed and handed to their child – much like a fax.

Devey said the idea of involving technology with geocaching is something he could get behind in the future.

“Geocaching is another thing the camp could do to incorporate technology as a tool,” he said. “Geocaching is a fun activity and is something we are looking into for a camp activity. If there are forms of tech that help the life changing experience that camp is, I’m all for it.”

Both Devey and Carey-Bell said the emphasis of camp is to have fun, move around and play within nature, so technology is not used very much, other than to supplement new things they learn within nature or structured activities.

“But all in all, the importance of camp is to get away from technology. It shouldn’t be center stage of the experience, but can be helpful,” Devey said. “It’s just an add-on if you use it wisely. Use it as a tool and only as a tool. Camp is there for children to learn differently and not rely on technology as the main attraction.”

Becky Raspe is a freelance writer from Cleveland.

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