July 13, 2016

Why I Send My Children to Summer Camp

As a child three things epitomized summer - Long nights running up and down the block with friends, swimming at the community pool, family vacations "up north", and most importantly, my parents sending me away to summer camp. I loved camp so much, that I even worked as a wrangler when I turned 14 and later a camp counselor. I have some of the most amazing memories of time spent at camp. Riding horses, mud-bogging, swimming in the swimming hole, crafts, rappelling, hikes, wildflowers, capturing bugs, capture the flag and laying on the hill under the beautiful might sky star-gazing. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I sent my children to camp as soon as I could.

The wranglers at Spring Hill Camp in the mid-80's having
as much fun as the summer camp kids did!

Summer camp helps a child gain so much in life and it gives us parents a much needed break from the never ending "mom, mom, mom" requests. I can selfishly say that because it is true. Even parents need breaks! 

My daughter started attending camp after her First -Grade year. My son attended camp after his first grade year, but at scout camp parents always went, so his experiences of attending camp alone did not really begin until after first grade when he attended camp with our church. The age of the child matters not though, ultimately parents will know when the timing is right!


As my daughter is younger, she had watched her brother attend camp for three summers before she had her opportunity to. As a scout my son worked really hard to sell enough popcorn so that he earned camp for free, a benefit our Pack promoted to encourage profits for the Pack. So it came as no surprise when my daughter, a Girl Scout Daisy, sold a lot of cookies. That year the council offered an incentive allowing scouts "cookie cash" instead of the cheap prizes. I was all for that, since who needs more "stuff." The cookie cash could be used in council stores, but I felt it was important that my daughter understand that she could contribute to her camp. She was truthfully very excited to "help pay her way too." Between the fall product sales and cookie cash, my daughter helped cover over half of her camp experiences too! She was proud of what she did, as was I.

That first year I registered her for camp though I became nervous about her leaving. After the holidays she went through a period of exceptional separation anxiety in school. Every morning a teacher would have to peel my daughter off me and out of the car to get her into the building, where she went down the hall in full tears. This went on for months, however my daughter insisted she still wanted to attend camp. 

Fishing, metal working, sculpture, climbing, and
shooting sports are some of the fun activities
my kids have learned about at summer camp!
As her week of summer camp approached, I prepped her to the best of my ability. I explained the drop off and pick up procedures, read her the camp documents and went through her packing list over and over. I even made sure that she would have a letter from home each day of her 4 days away. Her first camp was a short stay, three night one, so she could become more comfortable at camp. On the day of drop off, I drove her to camp, went to her cabin to set up her bunk and kissed her goodbye. I had prepped the camp ahead of time, letting them know of her anxiety issues, but from the moment I walked away from her campsite, I saw no tears. 

This year my daughter tossed her items into her bed,
turned and said, "Peace out mom." That was my cue that she
was ready for me to leave her at summer camp.
I was anxious that week, and expected a phone call from camp. Thankfully none came. She did fantastic that week. I picked up a filthy kid with hair skewed around her face. She was grinning from ear to ear, singing songs loudly for the parent performance at 5:00 too. She did briefly run quickly to me, engulfing me in the biggest hug, but then went back to sit with her new friends and counselors. I ultimately knew she would be fine, however I was exceptionally pleased to see the newfound confidence my daughter came home with that first year of summer camp!


I mentioned that my son attended Cub Scout camp for several years WITH me there as his parent. The last two years there, other boys trusted me with their boys, but my son was stuck with me attending as the leader too. Although he had lots of growth, learning new things and having plenty of new experiences, he still had me with him. So the same year that my daughter attended sleep-away camp, my son also had his first time away. He went away for a week though!  I so appreciated the week as both were away at the same time for part of it and they both appreciated "life without mom" for a bit. Their newfound independence played a big role in their development and growth.
I enjoy that they get to be part of a bigger, broader world too.  I'll never forget being a camp counselor and telling all my campers that if they wrote me, I would write them back. That may have been a big mistake on my part though, since I spent the summer buying stamps! Both of my children have come home with names, phone numbers and addresses of other kids and more importantly, they have stayed in touch with those kids! I made some amazing friends in similar fashion. My kids have mostly attended camp without knowing others there, both have had friends attend camp with them too. They will both say though, that they have had the most fun when they have gone without knowing anyone!

We have always delivered our kids to their summer camp.
Last year we let them ride the bus. It was yet another first
for the kids and an exciting adventure for all!
Summer camp has given my children a way to conquer fears and challenges like very few activities can. Several years ago while at camp, my son experienced a bit of hypothermia. He had to learn to go on with his day (after warming up of course). Last year, extreme weather coming through camp forced my daughters group to move their campsite THREE times during the week. If you've ever packed up after camp, you'll know this is no small feat either. Last summer during camp, my daughter had to pass the dreaded "tip test" during her camp session too. That is where they tip your canoe and teach you to be OK with that happening. She fretted over this for months ahead of time but came through it with flying colors. Having that experience helped her cope with her canoe getting stuck in the swampy mud during that week. She still tells the story of her counselor toeing them to safety, and that if you stepped out the mud would suck your shoe off.  Overcoming obstacles helps children to understand how to cope in their every day life when something does not go their way and goes wrong. I love the confidence that summer camp has helped build as the kids adapt to their environments. 



Summer camp has provided my children with the opportunity to learn new things, gaining the strength, courage and confidence to try something they would have never otherwise tried. Several years ago, a monkey bridge and climbing wall caught my daughters attention. At the time she was timid about trying it, but she came home from camp last year telling me that her counselor on the climbing wall could not belay her fast enough. She was told she was a monkey on the wall and should consider climbing as a sport. This last year she was part of the Kids Club at Planet Rock! My son too has learned many new things. He seems to be a bit more like me, in that he aims to try something new at every opportunity. Last summer he tried sculpture and this summer is welding. He has taken to shooting sports too, and has decided he may like to get more serious about them this next fall. Camp is one of the few places where he can try these activities out. I'll admit. I feel kind of gipped - The only activities that were different when I was a kid was copper enamel crafts, rappelling and mud-bogging! 


Sending my kids to summer camp is the highlight of their summer, much as it was mine. This summer my son is attended three weeks of camp away from home as well as another week away as part of the governor's honor guard on Mackinac Island. My daughter was a bit disappointed to not be going away for more, but as I write this she is away at Girl Scout camp learning to be a master chef. I can not wait for her to be home and show me what she has learned. I'm sure she will be cooking dinner for us soon and look forward to eating what she makes while hearing about the awesome adventures while she was away at summer camp.

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