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Why Send Your Kid to Camp

Going to take a slight detour on the Kids in Sports and Other Activities series to talk about camps and their value in the growth of children.

This one seems so easy for me and hard to keep brief. In this article I will give you my personal experience and my reasons ,from many years at camp,why it is good from your kid. Later the good part when I will let my child’s words tell you from a different perspective. Finally some practical advice.
I have spent 20 of the last 25 years at camp. All in my adult life. Growing up I had only a brief one week experience at church camp  in SW Oklahoma. I had no idea what I was getting into all those years ago driving that ’64 Comet to Starrucca, PA . I was there about 24 hours before I fell in love. The work was harder, the days longer and the friendships stronger than anything I could have ever imagined.
My time in the mountains at Island Lake Camp, owned by the Stoltz family, has presented me with some of the greatest challenges, friendships and memories in my time there as a counselor, athletic coordinator and director. It is an incredible environment for personal growth and being exposed to people from around the world. In all the years there we had our share of ups and downs all the while giving thousands of kids the time of thier lives. You learn quickly in the camp world to never say, “I have seen it all.” I thought I had experienced most of it until I went back to camp after a brief hiatus and took my 9 year old daughter with me to be full time camper.

I loved camp. I helped build the place and was there through years of growth and success. I never thought of anything but the positive. Suddenly I was faced with the question, “What if your daughter doesn’t like it?”.  Uhhh. Never thought anyone wouldn’t like it. Luckily for me and my daughter she walked into a supportive environment filled with counselors and staff whose full attention was making kids happy and safe. Most camps are like this.

Her first act there was to ditch me and eat with the counselors as all the other kids would arrive the next day. It was never in doubt the counselors were happy to see her and treated her like gold from minute one. That was a good sign we had hired the right staff. Most of our contact over the next 6 weeks involved her stopping by my office window with this conversation, “Hi Dad. Bye Dad.” That was all I needed to hear. If she didn’t need to talk to me, that was a good thing. It meant she was making friends, learning new things and she didn’t need me. More on that last point later.

NEXT Post in the Kids in Sports, Music and Other Activities series- The Power of One Leader.

One day I saw that her hands were taped up around the palm. I called her in and asked to see them. She showed me blisters that she had from working so hard at gymnastics and circus. She had taped them up because she didn’t want to miss out and kept going. This was the kid who would barely get outside and get active at home. Here she ran to activities, participated in everything and unplugged for 6 weeks. That’s right. No TV, cell phone or internet!  She even wrote back and forth (in pen and paper) to her grandparents and mother. Even a few to her aunts.

I knew it was good thing for her to be at camp. I had learned through the years and years of serving other families that camp was a good thing for kids, but to see your own daughter thriving in an that environment is beyond words. It also caused me to reflect on the positive aspects of the camp world and how I could relate to friends who had not had the same experiences as I had. Not everyone grew up going to camp, had worked as a counselor in college or had a family history of camp.

Here is my list boiled down from countless conversations and millions of interactions over the years:

  • They will have fun!
  • They will form friendships that will last a lifetime! They will talk to you about these relationships all year long.
  •  Your child will experience new things. Camps provide unique programs and environments.They will try different activities and be well outside of their comfort zones.
  • Your son or daughter will encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. Camps will make sure it is a safe environment and your child will face the outdoors, uncertainty of new friends, physical challenges, mental challenges and choices they have never had to make. Again, camps will provide a safe environment for these challenges.
  • They will be away from you! This one bothers a lot of parents. Your kids may experience a period of missing home and you and the dog and everything. That is a good thing that they miss you. Their growth during this time is crucial. They will sprout and do things they would never do with a parent hovering nearby. They won’t need your validation. This point if often harder on parents than the kids. The thought of them not needing you as much is hard. They still love you and will be excited to see you again.
  • They will be more independent.  You may experience this as being able to clean their room, going to bed without assistance or overall willingness to take care of basic daily needs. Don’t worry. They will still need your emotional support.
  • They will be better decision makers. They will need less adult help with many choices. You will also see them taking more accounting of their own actions
  • They will have been outside all summer (or part of one) and hopefully be healthier for it. At most camps they will not be allowed to sit in front of a TV or computer for any amount of time during a given day.
  • At many camps they will be exposed to counselors from different countries and possibly different cultures.
  • Many former campers claim that camp made their transition to college a piece of cake. They knew they could go home at some point and that they could  handle the emotions of being away from family and friends. They will also adapt to unique situations and quickly form friendships.
  • They will cry when they leave camp. That is a good thing. It shows that they cared that much. Relish that they worked that hard at something.
  • They will have fun!

The above list is of course not inclusive. I could write a book on it. Below is a list my daughter compiled of things that camp gives her. She included it in a thank you note to Matt, one of the owners of Island Lake, the day she found out she would be coming back next summer. Read the list 2 or 3 times.

Camp gives me:
– Shelter
– Bed
– Food
– Fun Summers
– Friends
– Smiles
– Activities
– A Great Time
– AWESOME Counselors
– Cool Bunkmates
– Safe Environment
– Nice Instructors
– Strength
– Skills
– Bravery
– Unbelievable Summers

This is a list of what camp gives me. I really love camp. Thank you very much. I’m excited for next year.

The list is very practical. The basics up top-Food, Shelter and a Bed. Some very predictable ones like AWESOME Counselors,Friends,etc. Bravery and Strength were a little surprising. She explained that she came home from camp stronger and the she had to be brave to be out in mountains and away from everything she knew. Safe Environment made me feel really good about all the great work that folks do at the camp. The fact that a 10 year old feels safe speaks volume of the staff. When kids feel safe they will explore and discover new things.

As a parent, you can look at that list and want it all for you child. Camp gives them these things. What an amazing opportunity for any kid. I get a little emotional every time I read that list. Not just thinking about my daughter’s time there. I think about the 1000’s of kids that we have given this opportunity. It is very powerful when you think of the influence we have had over the years.

Again, I could go on for days, but the list sort of stands on its own.

Camp is about people interacting with each other and having to figure out how to get along while having the best time of their lives. Next post will be titled The Power of One Leader and will be about a camp person who made the difference in countless lives and also fits into my series of Kids in Sport, Music and Other Activities series.

Some practical advice:

– Find a camp that is American Camp Association approved. This organization at least gives you a baseline of safety and fiscal responsibility. They conduct inspections on a routine basis.

– Look hard and find a camp that fits your needs. It is a big commitment. Do your homework.

-Ask other families about their experience. When a camp approaches you, ask to let your kids talk to other kids.

– Ask about the experience of the staff. Are there people who work in education? Where are the counselors from? How old are they? What training do they provide their staff?  What are their level of support for the staff?

– Check to see that your children will have clear channels to report concerns while at camp.

Have fun with this journey. Love to hear your thoughts as always. Will also take ideas on expanding this topic in the future.

KJF

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