The Role of Storytelling in the Summer Camp Experience


Hi, my name is Larry Wilensky, and I’ve been associated with Iroquois Springs and its predecessor, Camp Sequoia, for a combined forty-two summers. I first attended camp at age 11 and have the honor of being known as the resident storyteller at camp.

One of my favorite times in camp during my camper summers was in the evenings at bedtime, a time of great camaraderie in the cabin. Best of all was when we were fortunate enough to have one of several counselors renowned for their storytelling abilities responsible for watching our cabin (the “O.D.”). The stories could be about anything, my bunkmates and I loved them all. Ghost Stories, Native American Creation Myths, Folktales, stories read directly from books, stories invented on the spot, funny stories, and stories meant to enlighten.

By the time I became a counselor myself, I joined the long storytelling tradition we have here in Rock Hill. At first I re-told stories that I had learned as a camper. The very positive reception my early storytelling efforts received encouraged me to become more creative and adventurous as I created stories of my own – often “on the spot”. I have told my stories to a wide range of audiences. They have been shared with large groups under the stars (and Perseid meteor showers), at campfires, at individual cabins, on hikes around camp and in the pool. The audiences have been boys, girls, and staff of all ages.

I think that stories and a storytelling tradition are an important part of camp. Camp is a wonderful place for children to learn and grow outside the “confines” of school. There is a close link to nature and the opportunity to experience new things. It makes for a perfect learning environment. Stories can be a great tool to teach, and well as entertain the kids (and adults for that matter!) at camp.

I always encourage new staff members to consider telling stories to their cabins. Sometimes staff and campers have told me that upon hearing one of my stories, they are inspired to try their hand a developing stories of their own. I think that’s awesome, and at moments like that I feel that I am passing on an old and cherished torch that will continue to burn brightly. Whenever staff read stories, repeat stories, and make up stories to tell their kids in their cabins at night the campers love it .I think that a major reason that stories at camp are regarded so highly by the kids is that the stories are being shared by an “elder”: Someone the campers respect who is taking the time to share adventure, friendship and challenges through the safety of a shared experience.

A word about very scary stories: It is paramount that at camp the children who are entrusted to us feel emotionally safe. I do confess to being capable of telling quite a scary tale, but only for the the oldest teen campers, and only if I am sure they can handle it.

The stories I tell have in some cases become long multi part epics over the years. They involve such different elements as time travel (through different eras of camp), baseball, alternate worlds, Jewish folklore, and camp legends. They try to teach through the actions of, and lessons learned, by the characters, but in a subtle way.I love the creative process of telling a story and am very honored by the response through the years. Stories can be magical and the storyteller takes the role of magician. They can be wonderful learning experiences as well. For us all!