Raise your hand if this sounds familiar… Your child comes to you and says, for what seems like the billionth time, “Ask me more about camp.” It’s now December and you’ve heard some of the stories so many times that you can actually recite them along with her. You wonder what odd but amusing little story your little one has managed to scour from the back of her mind that somehow involves the solitary five minutes of summer camp about which you haven’t yet heard. While you’re doing this, your child only grows more impatient, “Go ahead. Ask me,” this time becoming so excited that she hops up and down a couple of times and appears to be choreographing her own little “ask me more about camp” dance, which somewhat tops the bemusement of the time she sang for you to ask.
You can’t resist her enthusiasm because you think it’s great to see her this excited about anything other than the latest episode of iCarly, so you cave and wait for her mile-a-minute relay of some cute story about that time she held hands with six friends and they all jumped off the water trampoline and made a really big splash, which was really funny because it made so many waves that it almost tipped over a paddleboarder nearby…No, really it was SO funny! Or the time they went on the nature walk, and it started raining, and they were trying to hurry back to camp, but they slipped in the mud…THAT was the funniest! You’re still trying to get the stains out of the shirt she was wearing that day, but you get an image in your head, having seen the photographs of your child and her friends covered in mud the camp posted on its website, and knew from the ear-to-ear grin that she was obviously having the time of her life, and you have to chuckle because, yes, it’s funny.
Your child starts a new story about a soccer game and how her friend had really wanted to score a goal all summer at camp but really wasn’t that good at soccer, so she blocked another player so the friend could try to score. And you realize that even though you might get asked to quiz her about camp a few hundred more times before the line turns into “I can’t wait to go back!” you don’t mind because you realize that hearing about little moments like this is nice. Not only did your child just have the time of her life, her enthusiasm in sharing her experiences with you adds great value to your decision to send her to camp because not only is she having fun but she’s learning valuable life lessons.
It’s here. The lull. The point at which the reality has set in that summer is over but next summer isn’t quite real enough. By now, most of us have shared our favorite memories of camp at least a half dozen times with anyone who will listen and we’ve actually started to settle into our fall habits, even if we still catch ourselves humming camp songs in that off moment while riding in the car or doing homework. There is a peacefulness about this time of year, though, because it’s the point at which we really begin to grasp the summer couple of months, reflect on them, and embrace the memories of them. Believe us! We’re not joking when we say that for those of us at camp, the summer passes with lightning speed. Blink more than once and miss it speed, in fact.
It’s hard to really take it all in in the moment. But one of the best things about camp is that it is something that can be savored. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very centre of civilization to you.” And he was right. Camp is as much a mindset as it is a place. For the next ten months, things will regularly happen that will remind us of something that happened at camp. Whether it was a heart to heart with a counselor, a favorite activity, or even just the adventurous spirit that comes with discovering something new, each summer at camp is full of about a million opportunities to learn just a little bit more about life, some of them impossible to realize until well after the original moment has passed but each of them capable of taking campers and staff back to that “place.”
Summer camp is a lot of fun. One need only ask any camper on virtually any summer camp campus to confirm that notion. Children love the activities and the relatively relaxed environment of sleepaway camp. However, there is something else that summer camp children crave, although they might not know it: structure. Dr. Laura Markham asserts that routine helps children develop self-discipline, cooperation, change tolerance, and responsibility.
To an outsider, summer camps may seem like little more than organized chaos. However, most summer camps operate around set daily schedules that move children from activity to activity at specific times throughout the day. Although the daily activities may change, the times and length of the periods do not. Meals are also held at set times. The use of bugle calls, bells, music, or announcements assist campers in transitioning from one part of their day to another, which, according to Markham, helps eliminate power struggles by setting parameters and giving children a recognizable sign for knowing when it’s time to bring one activity to a close and move onto another without being told.
A daily routine also helps at night. Research shows that children who have a structured schedule sleep better at night. Routine also lessens anxiety and improves behavioral issues. Children feel less anxiety when they understand what is expected of them and can confidently anticipate what will happen next. Summer camp is built on traditions that happen from year-to-year. Many camps are also divided into age groups that serve as steps through the camp experience from the first year of camp to the final. From their first day at camp, there are certain rites and privileges related to sleepaway camp traditions specific to each age group to which campers can look forward as they get older. That children can see from the beginning that summer camp is a progressive process also helps them to understand the concept of patience when working toward a goal.
Because of the benefits provided by the structure of summer camp, many parents are increasingly seeing the advantages of time spent at summer camp. As a result, summer camp is experiencing a revival of sorts as a summer staple. More than eleven million people attended camp last year, according to the American Camp Association. If you’re trying to think of a way to add value to your children’s summer, consider sending them to summer camp.