Summer Camp: Why It’s Important For Your Kids

Summer Camp: Why It’s Important For Your Kids

KidsI have NEVER relished the idea of sending my precious child to overnight camp.  In my last post about Lulu leaving for camp, I tried to come to terms with why it was a good idea for Lulu (and for me) to go to camp. Since writing that post, I have been approached by a few parents wanting to know about Lulu’s personal experiences at camp and how specifically, she benefited from the experience at such a young age.  (Lulu was 7 years old when she attended Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, MN.)  I thought that her experiences and my observations were worth sharing with others who might be considering sending their children to overnight camp this year.

friends1. Make new friends: Learning how to get along with other children

Lulu has never had a problem venturing into new environments when she doesn’t know a lot of people.  Lucky kid, right?  But because she is an only child, she has also learned how to survive amongst ADULTS and not necessarily other children. It seems that meeting and befriending adults is a lot easier than befriending children her own age.  Being at camp has helped Lulu learn the social cues appropriate for children her own age. A well run camp allows for social trial and error without there being lasting and significant social consequences.

2.  Working together as a cabin and a community teaches teamwork: one of those “rest of your life” skills

Overnight camp is more than just a place to do”Arts & Crafts”  and “Swim in the ice cold lake.”  Lulu is part of a bigger group made up of campers, counselors, specialists (or teachers) and Camp Directors. Because she lived among all of these people and could not go home, she worked to get along with people from a variety of backgrounds. She couldn’t run back home for assurance.  For example, the girls in Lulu’s cabin worked together to keep their cabin clean so they could win a multi-scoop ice cream sundae at the end of the summer. They had to negotiate who would do a variety of chores including cleaning the bathrooms and showers.  I think that may have been the first time that Lulu willingly picked up a broom, let alone cleaned a toilet.  (BTW:  The cabin did not win the “Paul Bunyan” Sundae challenge last summer.  I guess her toilet cleaning skills were found a bit wanting.)

3. Facing the consequences:  Making choices (good and bad) and becoming self-reliant.

While I don’t consider myself  a “helicopter” mom, I definitely don’t hold back from sharing my opinions on all sorts of topics related to my child.  Summer camp gives Lulu the autonomy to make choices for herself without her parental figures influencing her opinions and actions. As soon as she got to camp last year, Lulu had to decide, and then negotiate with her cabin mates, which bunk to sleep in:  the top or bottom?  Which 2 clothing “cubbies” were hers and where it was okay to hang her poster of Justin Bieber?  Each day, her counselors asked her what she wanted to do during the 4 activity periods the next day. She could decide whether she wanted to swim or practice archery.  Work at the farm or go horseback riding?

4. She has ownership over her life.

As Lulu so eloquently put it when I asked her why she loved camp so much: “I can really just be myself and everyone accepts it.”

Camp counselors typically don’t hover the way that parents do.  Campers are responsible for making many decisions on their own, and face the consequences of those decisions. For instance, if Lulu spends her whole summer working on pottery, she might miss the chance to try out for the camp play or go on a fishing trip. At camp, Lulu owns her choices and, other than reading a letter from home, doesn’t have to share them with anyone or receive anyone’s unsolicited input like she would at home.  And we’re hoping that practicing these skills might help her when she gets a bit older and we aren’t as accessible to talk through choices and consequences with her. The best thing about becoming more self-reliant is the incredible sense of self assuredness and confidence Lulu has when she comes home from a summer away from home.

Despite spending several summers at camp, my daughter still relies on Adam or me to remind her to make her bed or brush her teeth. Camp is a great way for children to learn to do these things on their own. Because I’m not there to remind her, Lulu is forced to remember them or suffer the consequences of the camp counselors or director. When she returned home from camp last year, I was astounded that she made her bed and brushed her teeth without my constantly having to remind her. (Note: The Camp Director told us that this would happen and that it could last up to a month.  It last 2 weeks before I had to remind her to make her bed and feed the pets. But those we 2 very wonderful and liberating weeks for her parents.)

5. Hey! Slowdown girl!  Life slows down for 8 glorious weeks.

No cell phones ringing.  No dvd players, television or video games glaring to distract my child from the world going on around her.  And yes, there is at least an hour a day where the girls must play quietly in their cabins, read a book or listen to music on their iPods. There is a big part of me that’s convinced Lulu actually learned how to read because she couldn’t watch television at camp. And she didn’t seem to miss her electronic toys—at least she never mentioned them in her letters. Without these distractions, she was able to find new hobbies, connect with other kids through card games and jacks and, perhaps, sharpen her imagination and story telling skills.

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6. Who knew that I could light a fire with just one match?  Or play the guitar? 

It’s obvious, but one of the benefits of summer camp is that kids get a chance to learn new skills. Regardless of the type of camp a child goes to (sports, art, circus), a child comes home with new skills and perhaps a lifelong love for something she may have never discovered had she not attended camp. For a mother who attended a Quaker (aka: no violence, please) high school, it’s ironic that my daughter loves and is good at Riflery.  They don’t call her “Eagle Eye” for nothing, you know?

7. I really MISSED you MOM!

This one’s my favorite:  All year, it is taken for granted that Mom and Dad are around to make my tween’s life easier  When she comes home, at least for the first few weeks, Lulu is SO appreciative of all of the little things that we do for her: like put her laundry away. All of the sudden being picked up from ice skating lessons takes on a new importance and appreciation.

So there you have it, seven great reasons to send your child to camp for the summer.  I admit, in January, summer camp seems a million years away.  But the time creeps up on us parents pretty quickly.  Between running back and forth to school, making sure that homework is done and ensuring our children make it to sports practices and music lessons on time, the idea of camp may actually sound pretty appealing to many parents.  My point is that not only will you benefit from some time off from your parenting responsibilities but so will your children.  You will be amazed at how much they grow, change and succeed!

The saddest sign to a camper:  "So Long."

The saddest sign to a camper: “So Long.”

Campingly Yours: She’s Leaving Home

Campingly Yours: She’s Leaving Home

The day I have dreaded is upon us.  K left for overnight camp this morning and I did a good job keeping it together until the very last moment. As I gave her the final hug goodbye, I broke down in tears.  Yes, I BROKE DOWN…not the other way around.  She didn’t shed a tear.  I suppose you’re going to say that the mother crying because she is going to miss her child and not the child crying because she is going to miss her mother is a sign of good parenting.  You know what I say?  I really don’t care.

Let’s be clear; I wanted K to go to camp.  Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Her absence allows my husband and I to go on a much needed GROWN UP vacation. This year we are headed to Africa with friends.
  2. She’s an only child which means K is around adults much of the time.  Going to camp allows her to have an opportunity to live with and interact with other girls her age.
  3. She gets a break from some of the monotony and routine of home.  Mixing it up and being in new situations allows for growth.
  4. Here’s a hard one for me: Being separated, while not ideal, does allow K and I to have a break and appreciate each other when we are together again.  (i.e. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.)
  5. I can take an exercise class or workout whenever I want without having to worry about where K is and if she is having a good time.
  6. I can go to sleep whenever I want.  Since I am the person who usually puts K to sleep, I also don’t go to sleep until she is out for the night.  This can sometimes take longer than I would like.
  7. My husband and I can watch shows with “more mature” themes and language without worrying that K might wander in or be exposed to something we consider to be inappropriate.
  8. We don’t have to be role models.  Yes, I said it.  We CAN eat popcorn for dinner and not feel ashamed that a good example is not being set for our child
  9. There is more spontaneity in our life.  (Interpret that as you see fit.) We can come and go as we please when we please without having to worry about getting a sitter–among other things.
  10. No Nick, Nick Jr. Nick Teen, Disney Channel or other child related shows or movies shall play in our house UNLESS we choose to play them.  Yes, that means that I get control of the remote once in a while and don’t have to barter with my daughter for who gets to watch what when.
There is no doubt that I miss my daughter already and I am confident that she will feel the tug to be home tonight as she gets ready for bed.  But  K has made some serious plans to perfect her water skiing and fishing skills.  She will have a chance to read some books and even more importantly get a break from the “hustle and bustle” of her busy school and extra curricular life.  As for the two of us, well A and I also have a great summer lined up.  We are traveling, visiting with friends and hanging with each other.  It’s been a long time since we have had a chance to get up in the morning and not have to rush Kayla to a lesson or a friends house.  I guess you can call us “Empty Nesters” for the next 8 weeks! I think that after a bit, we will start to like it.