Since 1996, Camp Quest in Clarksville, Ohio has been emphasizing critical thinking and the scientific method. It is a residential camp (campers sleep in cabins on site as opposed to day camps where kids go home every night) for kids of Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists. Although all children are welcome.
Most of the time, the kids do normal camp stuff such as hike, compete in relay races, sit around campfires.
But the overarching philosophy is that life without religion is a perfectly healthy, viable option.
The camp rents space from a 4-H camp in Clarksville. The Ohio camp is the largest, with 78 campers, but there are camps held in Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, California, Texas, Ontario, and the UK. There will be a camp opening in Ireland soon.
In a recurring gag, counselors tell the kids that two invisible unicorns run free at Camp Quest. Anyone who can prove that isn't true will win a prize.
The kids learn that you can't prove a negative, such as God doesn't exist, Metskas said. The burden of proof should be on those who say he does.
The challenge is a "fun, silly way to take on a serious conversation these kids will run into over and over again in real life," she said.
The camp gives the kids "one week where their families' beliefs aren't controversial," she said. "It gives them some confidence they can draw on."
Co-Founder Helen Kagin who died on February 17th at age 76 wanted to give "children from non-theistic families a place to belong." It was operated by the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Helen and her husband Edwin served as camp directors until they retired in 2005.
Camp Quest is now incorporated and an independent 501(c)(3) educational non-profit and operates the Ohio camp. The other camp location are independently run though coordinated with Camp Quest, inc.
Juliana Panteloukas, 13, of New York, said most of her friends at home are religious.
"I'm an atheist," as are her parents, she said. "I just think it's really nice because I feel these are my kind of people."
Campers and staff "do talk sometimes about how silly ... different religions are and what they have to do," Juliana said.
But the main message at camp is "you can believe what you want."
With that, she went back to her lunch table, where preteen girls scarfed hamburgers and chips before an afternoon swim.