This is the 2nd part of a three-part piece on why I send my child to overnight camp. Click HERE to read part I.
As I mentioned in my last entry, there are definitely parents who buy into the whole ethos of sending one’s child to overnight camp. This entry is not written for them, as that would be preaching to the choir. Really, these pieces are for all the people who have ever looked at me sideways, gotten all judgmental on me, and wandered off whispering to a friend after I have proudly admitted that I send my son to summer camp. And yes, he has been going since he was 8 years old and, yes – eventually – instead of a mere 3 weeks, he will likely spend his entire summers there.
If my last entry didn’t convince you, here are even more benefits to sending your child to summer camp:
6. A chance to be a little bit naughty. Some of my favorite camp memories involve being a little bit “bad.” We girls would raid the boys’ cabins, get all their underwear, and hang them on the flagpole in front of the dining hall. Then, they, of course, would get us back. We would stay up way past our allowed bedtimes (at home) and torment the on-duty counselors in the village, claiming there were ghosts in our cabin. (Really. There were. Three of them.) Sometimes we refused to participate in a particular activity – just because. We were kids exercising a little bit of control that we knew we probably wouldn’t have gotten away with at home. My son said that one of his favorite “naughty moments” happened one year when the counselors and campers threw rotten plums, mustard and ketchup at each other. “It was like getting slimed!” he exclaimed. He mentioned that a few kids also “smeared shaving cream all over each other”; these are things campers all across the country do each summer, but to kids, these oldies but goodies are eternally new. And of course, all of this programming is created and orchestrated by a very capable staff who oversee everything and make sure no-one gets too out of control.
7. A chance to get down and dirty. During the school year, kids worry so much about their physical appearance. They want the “right” clothes from the “coolest” stores. At camp, with the exception of a few special programs, campers can relax and not worry about their clothes or their hair. If it rains, they can cover themselves in mud, go mud-sliding, make mud pies, and then wash-off in the lake. They can have a huge all-camp Color War that goes on for days and culminates in one crazy event like a giant colored water balloon contest and laugh as the inky ballons explode on impact. Heaven help me, but they can go to bed without brushing their teeth. They can even go to bed with dirty feet. Now I may be an extreme neatnik, but it’s hard for me to imagine even the most mellow parent appreciating a mud-covered kid lounging on the couches or dragging funky feet over freshly vacuumed carpets. At camp, anything goes when it comes to good, wholesome, messy fun.
8. A chance to make lifelong friendships. When people live together for extended periods of time – adopt the same schedule, perform the same daily rituals, sing the same songs, chant the same cheers, share the same inside jokes – a community is formed. And when people return year after year, this community becomes a kind of family. Many of the people I consider to be my closet friends are the people I went to summer camp with nearly 30 years ago. Some of them live nearby, some of them live farther away. These relationships ebb and flow, but I feel confident when I say that I have a core group of folks whom, I believe, that if I needed them, I could count on them to be there for me. To loosely quote James Taylor, I could just call out their names, and they’d come runnin’…
9. The opportunity to rediscover my spouse. During the year, husband and I tend to become so child-centered that we often toss our own interests aside. Even our connection to each other sometimes falls on the back burner. It’s always there; it’s just that sometimes it’s on a low simmer. While our boy is off enjoying himself at camp, we can refocus our energy and rediscover each other — which is nice. So after he is done with work, hubby gets unlimited, guilt-free golf; and I get to swim and write and write and write without interruption. We eat later than we usually do, and we talk about adult stuff. We go out with friends — often with plans made at the last moment — and never have to fuss about making sitter arrangements. We watch movies that we have been putting off forever, and we even have a chance to make plans about the future as individuals and as a family. We are dangerously free, which is kinda nice. Honestly, alone-time with the spouse is not to be minimized!
10. The Big Reunion. Unlike Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and unwittingly lands in Wonderland, or Dorothy from Kansas, who accidentally lands in Munchkinland after a tornado carries her house away, there is nothing accidental about our son’s departure. The week before he leaves, we create a “staging area” where we label all his clothes. We make a very intentional trip to The Dollar Store for glow sticks and decks of cards, whoopee cushions and over-sized sunglasses, and all kids of other goofy kid stuff that he can use while at camp. He packs his favorite books and magazines and a few packs of gum. And, believe me, that kid is psyched! That said, like anyone who has ever journeyed from home for a while, while one certainly appreciates the change in scene, the people, the opportunities to do things you have never done before – perhaps you never thought you’d ever get to do – at the end of the journey, it always feels so good to go home. We are all reminded of the meaning of the words “fortunate” and “grateful” and “love.” Our son remembers how comfortable his bed is, and we are amazed at how quickly children grow.
For a few days, I don’t mind when my son carelessly tosses his sneakers about or that he forgets to put his dishes in the sink; I realize he’s out of practice. I don’t mind the seemingly endless loads of laundry, the piles of important rocks that he’s brought home, and I actually enjoy washing a few extra dishes because I am just so happy we are together again. I kind of love that 80% of his sentences start with, “When I was at camp…” or “Did I tell you about the time at camp when I ….”
What can I say? It’s in his blood. He drank the bug-juice and loves it.
My memories from camp are extremely different from what you put forth so far here…nevertheless, I find it incredible that people are critical of you for sending your son. I thought camp was something nearly all parents accepted as a good thing, and it was only because they couldn’t afford it or wanted their kids close to home for some other (logical) reason that camp was nixed. It’s like saying that summer vacation is a bad thing: it’s just a part of kids’ life. Are these parents expecting that their children are never going to develop personalities and wishes of their own? Never going to move on from their relationships with their parents, into their own lives? They need to learn that the world is wide, and they need to learn that sooner rather than later.
I love the last paragraph! Reminds me of when i was a staffer at camp. Even now (12 years later) when my brother and I try to tell my mom something crazy we did at camp (as staffers), she ALWAYS responds with “i don’t want to hear it!”. Of course we always tell her anyway, and she is always slightly appalled that her two boys would be up to shenanigans such as tying a fellow staffer to a tree (in only his boxers), smearing him with honey and dancing around him yelling “Here bear!” and duct taping one of our roommates to his mattress and bringing him out to the swim dock and leaving him there, or the innumerable times we broke curfew. I actually just got back from leaving my kids at camp for the week. i can’t wait to hear all their stories (and can’t wait for them to be staffers at camp).
If I had the money…sister, they would be there! LOL! I think it’s great. All they do here (@ home) is complain about how bored they are! And somehow it’s my job to entertain them? My youngest is 13, so my job as “entertainer” ended awhile ago. I’ve been promoted to Taxi Driver but just because I work at home doesn’t mean I’m under any contractual obligation to be camp counselor as well.
I remember when my mother would send us out in to the neighborhood first thing in the morning, and we didn’t return until the street lights came on! Now, the kids seem like they never really go anyplace. I have to force mine to go play in the back yard! Grrr! Anyway, how wonderful an experience camp would be. I’m sure they would fight it, but when all is said and done, they would have a rich and wonderful experience. They would learn to self soothe, figure out things for themselves, become more independent…all very good things I might add.
I think parents struggle more with letting go, and dare I say the word again: “GUILT”. As if they are not being “good” parents if they don’t entertain their children 24/7 with rich cultural experiences. If their child’s every waking moment isn’t consumed and scheduled with activities. Camp is a wonderful way for kids to be kids. If you have the money, let go!
I really responded to what Mary wrote about “I remember when my mother would send us out into the neighborhood first thing in the morning, and we didn’t return until the street lights came on!” It is such a shame that our generation has tightened the boundary of what we consider “safe” to right outside the door. Camp seems even more important now than in the past as a way for children to find independence, a sense of self and a place to experiment with other sides of themselves. As for the expense of camp, it is true that camp is ridiculously expensive. However, some camps do have opportunities for families that need help sending their kids. Another idea is instead of giving toys and “stuff” for holiday gifts, santa or family members can contribute to a gift that will last a whole lot longer though may require 6 months of waiting. Summer camp is a gift that gives forever.
Now I understand why you go back to camp every summer yourself!
Harry Potter fans…..Camp road, that long dirt road that from the top leads down toward the lake and seems to disappear into the trees; it is like platform 9 3/4, it takes you into a world of magic.
I loved my summers at CSL. They were probably the best five summers of my childhood. At overnight camp, I learned how to be independent, self-confident and learned the true meaning of friendship.
My daughter goes to day camp now and loves it. She’s there five days a week for 6 hours and when I come to pick her up, she’s not ready to leave. When she’s old enough (and ready), I will be sending her to over-night camp. Part of me is hoping to send her to CSL where I know she will be welcomed and well taken care of. With any luck she might even get to be fellow campers with children of friends I made at camp.
I look forward to the day we get that laundry list of things to pack, going shopping for her first trunk, spreading out all the stuff she’ll need, and while packing it up thinking she’s going to have the time of her life – 3 or four weeks away from mom and dad – it doesn’t get any better than that.
All of this is funny to me considering I went to overnight camp as kid and now again as an adult so that my kids could go too!! I worked there to cover the cost and my husband stayed home. Now I am home with the hubby having our second honeymoon so to speak and they are at camp having the time of their lives!! Love that overnight camp.
Biggest difference I can see is that when the kids go off to college the ones who went to overnight camp have an easier adjustment since it is a been there done that attitude! Nothing like having been thru some communal living: like 10 girls and 4 counselors in a room together with only 2 toilets for 7-8 weeks to make dorm living look easy. I love and loved it and I think my girls do too.
BTW they are ages 8 and 10 1/2. The 8 year old had her birthday at camp and I have to say I could not throw a bigger party than 400 other campers singing Happy Birthday to my girl. Ain’t nothin like it!
I know this post is old, but I just want to say thank you. I found your site as I sit here at 4am terrified at the fact that we will be dropping my six year old off at girl scout camp in the near future. It will be for 3-5 days. (three days IF she is struggling and wants to come home, but I doubt she will) My daughter is so excited, it is all she can talk about. The camp ground is an hour away, she’s not even gone yet, and I already can’t sleep. Which makes me feel silly. But your posts on camp have reminded me of my own experiences at summer camp as a kid. Memories I had almost forgotten, and which were some of the best times of my childhood.
Hi Catherine! Thank you for your kind compliment & im glad this post helped you to remember some arm memories. It’s hard for us to let our people go! I know it’s tough, but try not to project your fears onto your daughter. She’s going to have a new adventure – and she’s absolutely fearless right now, which is wonderful. Reassure her that she might actual feel a little sad. Tell her it’s NORMAL & that she should expect it. See if she can articulate how she might handle sadness, if it arises. Maybe she could write about it. Maybe she’d prefer to hit a tether ball. Maybe she’d like to talk to a counselor or a friend. These are all good options. Let her know you love her & that you’ll be there for her when she comes home. (Try not to tell her that you’ll come for her if she’s homesick. Kids adjust. They do, and we sometimes rush in too quickly to save them, IMO.) I’d love to hear about your summer camp experiences and hers. Feel free to write back with follow up!