As adults, we have cherished memories of spending our youth on Grandma’s farm in the summer, collecting eggs and helping plant a garden. We filled our days with bike rides along country roads followed by a dip in the old watering hole. Whether we spent summers in the country or not, we remember relaxed and unfilled days.
In reality, we probably said the same thing our kids say to us…”M-o-o-o-m-m-m, I’m bored!” So as the ever-dutiful parent, you sign your children up for T-ball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, interspersed with Science Adventures on Monday and Wednesday. That leaves Friday for art classes, followed with swim lessons.
Naturally, you spend the summer in the hot car furiously shuttling children from one activity to another. There is an easier way to spend your summer. Go to summer camp. Not you. Your children! They’ll have a first-hand travel experience as independent travelers. While some camps have private airstrips for children to arrive at camp in their family’s personal jet, most of us will drive our kids to camp. Have your son or daughter figure out the mileage or check out any worthwhile stops along the way. When arriving at a summer camp, encourage your child to find the registration desk and check in on her own. Those are valuable skills to have for independent travel.
Here are some reasons your child should go to residential (or sleep-away) camp this summer.
Reason # 1: Your children get to be around positive role models.
Have you ever watched 18-year-old camp counselors? Their energy is unbelievable! Do you want to organize a dozen squirrelly ten-year-old boys to participate in an all-day water carnival? Would you enjoy laying on the grass in your bikini as second graders paint your body with watercolors? Can you see yourself teaching archery to tween boys? Counselors love doing all those things! When your daughter tips her counselor out of an inner tube, the counselor laughs and splashes your daughter. (Most of us would yell about getting our hair wet.)
Counselors are trained to provide safe, fun activities for kids. They’ll listen to the same pathetic knock-knock joke with glee. Counselors also teach your son or daughter to listen when others speak and to help someone having difficulty with a craft project.
Bob Strodel, director of the Brookwoods and Deer Run camps in Alton, New Hampshire, says, “Children will have a chance to spend more quality time with an adult role model in a two week camp program than with their parents over a nine-month period.” Camps accredited by the American Camping Association require extensive staff training. It’s been rumored counselors even get children to clean their cabins with only a gentle reminder. Can you do that? To find an accredited camp in your area, check out the American Camp Association.
Reason # 2: Children learn appropriate risk taking.
As a former camp counselor and camp director, I can tell you it’s a good thing parents don’t see their children at summer camp. Camps encourage children to take risks. Counselors want your daughter to grab the rope swing, fly over the river and drop eight feet in the water. Scary? Yes! Satisfaction your daughter receives from trying something out of her comfort level? Priceless! As parents, we’re so quick to say, “Be careful! Don’t jump so high! You’re riding your bike too fast!” Psychologists tell us children join gangs because they enjoy the thrill and adrenaline rush of doing something “exciting”. Camp channels that thrill into wholesome activities like water skiing, participating in a talent show for the first time and taking a midnight hike. (Yes mom, we’ve been known to get kids up in the middle of the night to “stalk for wild animals”. They sleep in the next morning though.) Your child learns it’s an appropriate risk to repel down a cliff. Along with the risk comes the satisfaction of gaining self-confidence in doing something not all kids do.
Reason # 3: Your children meet a variety of people.
It’s all too easy for your son and daughter to think the entire world is like their core group of friends and teachers. Camp brings your child in contact with kids from different schools, communities and cultures. Many camps make a point of hiring international counselors. Your daughter’s camp soccer coach might be from Australia while your son’s cabin counselor shares stories about growing up in South Africa. My daughter had a counselor from England, which meant all the girls in her cabin began speaking with British accents. When you’re in third grade, it’s the height of humor to say things like, “I shan’t be able to attend tea with the queen today.” (In a British accent of course!) This encounter-of-a-close-kind “forces” children to learn about getting along with others. One nine-year-old, the top athlete at his elementary school, was shocked at the high athletic ability of other campers his age. Camp taught him that there was a bigger world than his small community.
Reason # 4: Children learn creativity in a camp setting.
Business leaders today complain about the lack of creativity in their employees. People are content to do the same thing repeatedly in a comfortable environment. Summer camp gets your child looking at the world in a creative way. How can they win the coveted pink plastic flamingo for having the cleanest cabin? What should they do for a really different skit in the camp talent show? How can they get across the creek without getting their feet wet? All these opportunities help children interact with each other to develop creative solutions. Out of their everyday environment, children develop creative thinking skills.
Reason # 5: If your children go to summer camp, you don’t need to drive them from soccer to ballet, to a play date, to computer camp to art class to ….
Just think. Your child can participate in all those activities in one location. Children have the opportunity for a wide range of activities without your chauffeur’s service. You have the opportunity to lie outside on your hammock, read a best selling novel and sip lemonade. Now that’s a great way to spend the summer!