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What I Learned from a Summer at Camp

My mom has this ritual of asking me about what I learned each day. Sometimes I shrug and say “I don’t know,” and other times I spit out interesting facts about blue whales, Egyptian Pyramids or volcanoes that I learned that day at school. So in the car the day I got home from camp, I wasn’t surprised when she asked me what I had learned while being away. However, she was surprised at my response.

I told her that I learned a lot of new skills that I would never have experienced if I had stayed home. I learned how to play lacrosse and sail. I learned to fish and learned a lot of crazy songs that have been stuck in my head all summer. I learned how to get from one side of camp to the other in the shortest amount of time. I learned how to make the perfect S’more, and I even learned how to paint. I felt like I was learning something new every day.

But in the first few days at home, I kept thinking about other things I learned at camp. Things that were more about character than skill. Things that will help me in life more than knowing the perfect ratio of chocolate to marshmallow on a S’more. When my friend and I had that big disagreement, our counselors walked us through a communication plan that left both of us feeling heard, understood and we walked away with our issue resolved. I learned how to recognize when someone was feeling left out or lonely, and how to bring them into the activity I was doing at the time. I learned how to interact with different people and learned to appreciate differences without judgment. I learned the importance of having true friends who are there for you no matter what, who accept you for who you are, and who are honest and real with you.

I learned quickly that I’m a naturally messy and unorganized person, but that keeping my stuff picked up in areas that I share with others is a sign of respect. I learned to live in close proximity with others and how to respect their personal space. I learned to compromise, to be flexible, and how to manage my time.

I learned that I can function without my cell phone and that not everything fun has to have a screen involved. I learned that without a cell phone, I could focus more on the my experiences rather than getting the perfect shot, choosing the best filter, and then waiting impatiently for my friends to “like” and “comment” on the picture through social media.

I learned a lot at camp. Some of the things are basic skills that are fun to know, while others are fundamental qualities that will set me up for better relationships and experiences for the rest of my life.

That’s So Camp!

According to the American Camp Association, there are about 8,400 overnight camps in the United States. With that many camps, there are obviously numerous differences between one camp and the next. Some camps have lakes while others have a pool; there are full season, 7-week camps and there are multi-session camps. The list of differences could go on forever, but while all camps are different, there are certain aspects that stay the same. These aspects are “perennially camp” and are the reason that summer camp is so important to those who attend. Without these staples, camp just wouldn’t be the same!

Campfires and S’mores

When people think about camp, one of the first things that come to mind is a campfire…and no campfire is complete without s’mores! But campfires and s’mores represent way more than just a mellow night with a delicious treat — they represent bringing people together. At any campfire, campers are surrounded by friends and counselors. There is no need for television, phones or technology of any kind. Instead campers enjoy each other’s company. There is a quaint and quiet simplicity that in today’s world is very hard to find.

Songs and Spirit

If campfires and s’mores are the first thing that comes to mind when people think about camp, songs and spirit are a close second. And similarly to campfires and s’mores, songs and spirit are about bringing people together. The unity that is formed from learning a camp song or from having pride in your camp is unmatched. This unity is not the only benefit of the songs and spirit of camp; they also instill a sense of tradition in campers. Many of the songs sung at camp have been around for decades. They are a great way to connect current campers to alumni and form a bond between generations who might not have had anything in common otherwise.

Campfires and s’mores may bring people together, and songs and spirit may keep traditions alive, but ultimately camp would not be camp without positive energy. No matter what camp you attend, the amount of support, love and camaraderie is unlike anywhere else in the world. While all camps differ for various reasons, perennially camp traditions are alive everywhere.

What a Council Fire Means to a Camper

Camp may be continually changing, but the traditional council fire has remained a constant for as long as anyone can remember. The mere mention of a council fire brings back a flood of memories for many campers; memories of friends gained, challenges overcome and a carefree time. Nothing captures the spirit of the camp experience quite like the “snap-crackle-pop” of a hot fire and the magical smell of freshly split logs waiting to get thrown on the flames. Camp simply wouldn’t be the same without council fires. After all, the traditional council fire represents more than just a nice way to stay warm on a brisk night, it represents tradition, togetherness and so much more.

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For as long as anyone can remember, friends and family have gathered around fires to tell stories, play games and enjoy good food. It’s a way to connect you to the past, and to enjoy the present. Not only is sitting and enjoying a fire a great tradition, but building the fire is a chance to pit your wits against nature and enjoy a connection to “the old days” — before light bulbs, flashlights or smartphones. In an ever-changing world, this connection to the past is invaluable.

And of course, no mention of council fires is complete without talking about traditional camp songs, especially the kinds that involve audience participation. Even if everybody sings out of tune, the harmony comes from the camp community’s commitment to keeping the traditional melodies alive — even the completely goofy ones.

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Another concept council fires represent is togetherness. Council fires are a time for winding down through songs, skits and stories. Many campers feel tired after a long day of activities, but you can count on this to be true: laughter flows freely by firelight.

…And of Course – S’mores!

Almost everyone’s favorite part of a campfire: S’mores! Crafting the perfect golden-brown marshmallow is an art as old as marshmallows and fires. Like any fine art, roasting a marshmallow to perfection is a tricky task that takes a bit of work and commitment. Whether you prefer a classic graham cracker and Hershey’s milk chocolate s’more or have your own special recipe, roasting marshmallows on a rip-roaring fire is something nobody forgets.

Create a Camp Atmosphere All Year Long

Just because your children are no longer at camp doesn’t mean you can’t create a camp atmosphere in your home.  There are several things you can do to keep the camp spirit alive all year long.

This doesn’t have to be a radical flip of the switch that completely eliminates conveniences and luxuries from your lives.  In fact, such an act is probably not very realistic for many families.  But taking small steps to reduce your children’s reliance on things such as television, video games, and cell phones is a great way to remind them that don’t need them as much as they think they do.  Designate a day or two each week in which you won’t turn on the television or play video games.  Have a family game night instead.  Board games and card games are a great, light-hearted way to bring the entire family together for a few hours.  Turn off cell phones during meal times, before a designated time in the morning, and after a designated time in the evening.  Yes, with the invention of smart phones, we’re becoming increasingly reliant on these convenient little gadgets, but you may be surprised at just how much you enjoy the peace and quiet of a few hours without them each day…and, your family will also likely remember just how much they appreciate having a conversation with someone who is not looking at their cell phone or texting the entire time.

Keep supplies for creative bursts.  Arts & Crafts, Eco Science, and Nature don’t have to be activities restricted to the camp setting.  In fact, many of the projects that your children do at camp can quite easily be done at home, and they’re a great way to fill an afternoon or evening on which you’ve decided to have a break from television and video games.  There are books readily available that walk you step-by-step through such popular camp projects as tie-dying, candle making, beading, shrinky dinks, Mentos geysers, goo, and many more.  YouTube also has a host of videos that demonstrate kid friendly home science and nature experiments.  Keeping a closet or a chest of standard supplies for these types of projects will prevent you from having to make a shopping trip every time the kids want to have some summer camp style fun.

Have a “campfire”.  You might not have a backyard big enough (and there may be some local ordinances against this, even if you do), but consider having a backyard fire.  A patio fire pit, if you have one, is actually ideal.  An operable indoor fireplace works, too.  Make s’mores, tell stories, share memories.  This makes for a great evening to invite friends over because, as every camper will tell you, the more the merrier at a campfire.  If you live in an area in which weather permits, actually taking a weekend camping trip is always fun, too.

Start a garden (if you have a yard) or cook with your children once a week.  Gardening and cooking programs are popular at camp. Even if you don’t have the space in your yard, herb gardens are easy to maintain and can be grown indoors.  Besides being enjoyable and fun, cooking is a valuable life skill for children to learn.  Let your children look up healthy recipes, talk about nutrition with them, and, most importantly, let them do the work in the kitchen.

Have regular family “out of the house” trips.  At camp, children regularly take “out of camp” trips to places such as local sporting events, the movies, or bowling… They look forward to these trips as a special treat and time to create some very special memories with their camp friends.  Why not make special memories like these as a family?

By making just a few (fun) adjustments, your entire family can enjoy the spirit of camp throughout the year, and it just might make those ten months of waiting a little more bearable for the kids!

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