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Summer is nearly upon us and with it, months of time with the kids at home and few scheduled activities. While trips to the pool and family vacation can take up a few weeks of the schedule, that leaves weeks of bored kids sitting around the house, getting into trouble.
My parents decided early on that all of the kids being home for the summer wasn’t a viable option for anyone’s sanity or for our family relationship. I started going to day camps with my brothers once I was in elementary school and by the summer after third grade was spending at first one, then two, then six weeks of my summer at sleep-away camps. Once I was old enough, I did the counselor in training program and then had the privilege of being a camp counselor for six years (and I still go back to visit). I decided to be an elementary school teacher in part because of my time as a camp counselor, learning how much I loved taking care of and spending time with children.
But camp was so much more than a career shaping force for me. Here are four of the most important things that I learned during my years at camp:
1. I learned how to make friends (and keep them).
Every time I arrived at the beginning of a new summer, there were 7 other girls in my cabin that I was expected to live in close quarters with for a week without even knowing their names. Our counselors were well trained in “getting to know you” games and conversation starters, but I also learned for myself how to get to know people and make friends quickly. I also learned how to keep in touch with those friends during the long year until camp came around again. I have camp friends that I have known since fifth grade that I still see at camp every year because of the strength of the bond we forged at camp.
2. I learned how to try new things.
Camp is full of activities you never get to try anywhere else: from sailing to archery to ropes course to ceramics, I tried them all (and failed at some). I learned how to fail and laugh at myself and enjoy new skills, and eventually I learned how to really excel at some of them which grew my confidence and made me even more willing to try new things in the future.
3. I developed a love for nature and time outdoors.
I grew up in the suburbs with manicured lawns and citronella candles. We went outside to grill on the patio or to go to the beach, but at camp we lived in the woods. I fell in love with the smell of pine trees and the stars and the mountains. I learned those trees like the back of my hand and it was always a surprise when we would come back after a year and see that some old familiar tree had been cut down because it was sick or struck by lightning. We knew where the trees belonged. I still like to unplug and go to the woods to rest and rejuvenate a few times a year.
4. Most importantly, I learned who I am at camp.
As a child, I had never been away from my parents, friends, and family for a whole week before in my life. It was scary (for me and I’m sure for my parents), but after the first day I started to realize that I could be myself there. No one had any preconceived notions about who I was or what I liked to do, and I could spend some time figuring those things out among new friends with new activities. I think that is part of the reason why my camp friends have been such life-long friends: they know the real me, the one who likes canoeing and long conversations and building fires and backpacking but also really values a daily shower and a large mug of coffee.
Camp can be a life changing experience for your child and has lasting benefits like new friends, new skills, more confidence, and time away from the computer during the summer. Research what kind of camp would be a good fit for your child and your family, and then take the plunge. One week could make a huge difference in your child’s summer and beyond. I grew up at Camp Cedarbrook in the Adirondacks, a Christian girl’s camp in the Adirondack mountains of New York. It is still my home away from home and a safe, fun environment to send your daughter to for a summer. And who knows? Maybe you’ll run into me there.