Tag Archives: Benefits of summer camp

Why Overnight Camp Rocks: Part II

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.

Why Overnight Camp Is Nothing To Be Afraid Of

This is the 1st in a three part series about why I send my child to summer camp.

photo by Jill Butin Neuman

It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends several weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.

More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!

Sometimes I get a variation on the theme: “I would never do that.” This response is extra excellent as it is packed with a little judgment, which I really appreciate. This response implies that I am somehow harming my child, perhaps inviting trouble into his life because I won’t be there to oversee his every move 100% of the time. (Can you imagine?)

When people respond this way, I sometimes get a little snarky and say, “At least this summer he came home with nine fingers.” (Insert a dramatic pause.) “Last summer was a disaster.” I know they are imagining pedophiles lurking around the showers or picturing their own children drowning, their heads being held under water by rowdy unsupervised troublemakers.

These are their issues.

For me, overnight camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to pay this gift forward to our child. Here’s what overnight camp gave me and continues to give children who attend each year:

1. Continued Independence. Each August, sonny boy and his posse of buddies hop on the camp bus and return with a kind of “we-can-survive-without-our-parents” vibe. I once asked my son if anyone ever gets homesick. He shrugged, “Usually, our counselors keep us too busy to even think about being homesick. If it does happen, it is usually the new kids – but once they get into it and get comfortable with the routine, all that homesickness goes away,” then he added, “Plus, we take care of each other.”

2. Benefits of Communal Life. Living in a bunk with 8 or 9 “summer siblings” affords kids the opportunity to develop some amazing problem solving skills.

If there is an argument, instead of a parent swooping in to the rescue, the boys generally have to work it out by themselves.

That means using their mouths to directly communicate their feelings. Sometimes they aren’t so great at expressing the subtle nuances of their emotions, but – again – they have each other to lean on. If things ever escalate, they have counselors and Unit Heads to help them.

There are other benefits of living in a large group. The boys learn to respect each other’s property, tolerate each other’s quirks, and appreciate each other’s boundaries. Everyone sees each other at their best and their worst selves. Summer camp goes a long way towards undoing that horrible “entitled” attitude. The spoiled girl quickly learns when her peers have had enough of her whining. Kids are patient to a point, but when an entire bunk is angry at you, it is time to take a look in the mirror. Campers quickly learn that despite the fact that a person cannot always get what he wants, everything usually turns out okay in the end.

3. Time Away from Technology. Okay, so when I was young, there was less technology, but I still missed Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and General Hospital. These days, chances are that your children know how to do things on your computer and cell phone that you had no idea could be done. During the school year, older kids are addicted to their social networks (Facebook and MySpace), their email accounts, their Apps, the Internet, and IMing. They are used to the constant buzz-ping of each new text message as it arrives. Being unplugged from most technology allows kids to connect with each other, a valuable skill that seems to be getting lost a bit these days. My son reminds me, “We’re not totally cut off. We can have iPods (there is no Wi-Fi access), so if someone needs some alone time, he can just pop in the ear buds.” But staff members have told me that after a few days, many kids begin to prefer people to gadgets, and rather than tune out, they start to look for other campers to “hang out with.”

4. Connection to Nature. While our family is fortunate to live in an area with plenty of access to great parks, during the school year, many children just do not have a lot of spare time to go outside and play. My son says, “At camp, we are kind of forced to appreciate nature. It’s easy to forget, but once you start walking around, you can’t help but remember.” Camp Seneca Lake has over 200 acres to explore. Trails to blaze. There are squirrels, field mice, lots of ants and millipedes; there are raccoons and skunks and deer. There is a beautiful lake with a beach that consists of zillions of flat shale rocks, perfect for skipping. What more could a kid want?

5. Opportunity to Try New Things. I like to think of CSL as a “liberal arts” camp.

Unlike sports camps where kids learn the skills necessary to specialize in one venue, at CSL kids have the opportunity to try new things simply because they have access to so many opportunities they may not have at home.

The “non-jock” can try floor hockey or excel at Ga-ga, a weird game I’ve never seen played outside of summer camp. There are plays in which kids can perform; an art barn where children can make jewelry, throw on the potter’s wheel, batik, make candles, draw, paint, make just about anything. (A far cry from boondoggle – although they have plenty of that, too.) At Athletics, they can practice archery, basketball, tetherball, softball, tennis, ping-pong – and any other land sport you can think of. The waterfront offers canoeing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, banana boating — even opportunities to swim-the-lake! Picky eaters might even try something new because the kids work up a real appetite trying all these incredible activities.

There is more to say, and I will, but I would also love to hear from you.

Would you allow your child to attend overnight camp for an extended period of time? Why or why not?