I dropped my nine year old daughter off this week for her first year at sleep-away camp –or boarding camp, as we used to say. It wasn’t without a lot of dread mixed in with all the practical and emotional prep. I’d told her about this all-girl’s camp, which I went to with my sisters when I was young, pretty much since the day she was born. Instead of lullaby’s, I sang her camp songs. Kooky, right? Not so much. Apparently, I’m not alone with my fond memories of summer in the sticks away from home. Many of my friends and even relatives have sent their kids to the camps they went to. Generational or legacy camps such as mine, each unique in their location, activities, songs and lore, are not at all unusual. But whatever they feature, wherever they are, they universally share (along with the lanyards, hikes and bug bites) the valuable life skills of bonding and self-reliance.
Just the other night, my sister recounted what a colleague said who had daughter at the same camp. “What’s with all the tearful goodbyes and having to go back every year? It’s like a cult or something,” she said. Definitely someone who’d never been to summer sleep away camp.
Anyone with fond memories of camp will agree, that though it wasn’t as dramatic as a “cult,” it was some of the best times of their childhood. Here’s a list of the positive life changing things your child will gain by leaving home for those weeks that aren’t necessarily articulated in the the camp brochures:
For my child (and most kids) this is the first time away from home for any extended period. How they are helped through this difficult transition with the support of great counselors, camp staff and their own critical thinking will ingrain a sense of security as they approach future change.
2. Intense shared experiences
Sharing personal and physical space with up to 8 kids, all diverse in personalities and background heightens their experience. Climbing a rock face, swimming in ice-cold ponds, slipping on moss-covered creek stones, getting thrown from a horse are all things that will burn indelible images into their conscience. It’s these “firsts” that their buddies are witness to, which they support them through, that will engender confidence.
3. Life-long friendships
Even after the years pass and the world has its way with us all, inside, we’re still those pure-hearted kids, who made real “BF’s” with those, who by luck of the draw, ended up sharing our bunk-bed. Thanks to Facebook, we are all re-connected with those dear old friends. It’s as if no time has passed. What a gift to give your child.
4. Personal Responsibility
We do so much for our children that our parents didn’t. From driving them to school, to spending entire Saturday’s on the soccer field, to throwing themed birthday parties, to supervising their homework and Internet activity. Let’s face it, the habit is all-consuming. It’s a necessary learning step for kids to manage their own day-to-day minutiae. Simply brushing teeth, doing cabin chores and arriving at scheduled activities on time without being prompted or “nagged” instills individual competency.
The first time your child shirks a cabin duty, shows up for swim class late, or fails to get along amicably with another camper, it will be met with consequence and disapproval by their group, further imbuing social accountability. What better “prep” for college or that initial job?
5. Athletic Achievement
Photos of smiling faces on zip-lines, climbing rocks or serving a tennis ball, abound those glossy camp pamphlets but they don’t explore those epic underdog stories of valor and accomplishment that have originated for decades at summer camp. Each child is made to challenge their fears, to learn a new skill, to compete individually and on teams, and to support their friends to do the same.
6. The Cure for a “Picky” Eating
Each meal is served in the mess hall with maybe a few options. So what if the sandwiches don’t have the perfect amount of mayo or the exact bread from home? Go ahead, skip that intro lunch! Following a full afternoon of outdoor activities, come the dinner bell, your kids will voraciously eat, without complaint, whatever is put in front of their faces.
7. Emotional Growth
Leaving home for the first time is exciting and scary and thrilling and sad. So much has to happen to get to “good-bye.” But what your child gains, though their parents are not physically present, is the sense that they can survive, that they will be supported throughout with letters and care packages from home, and they will be received with open arms to help them transition back to the “real” world at the end of their journey. A feet-first jump into self-reliance, with life-long friendships and remember when stories to share.
With all my worrying, lists and efficient packing strategies to make sure that my daughter had just enough insect spray, stationary and underwear safely stowed in her trunk, after a quick “Bye, Mommy!” without a tear, she ran up the hill to play with her new “bestie” without looking back. Ironically, the next day, I received a call from camp that she’d fallen and broken her wrist that first night — they were taking her to the E.R. So much for those perfect waterproof nametags! Anyway, the good news is, she’s fine, a trooper. She’s got a 6 week cast and can’t ride horses or swim, but her letter says she’s having a blast — “This is the best camp ever!”
Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl.