by Jenni Walkowiak
Summer is coming, and it’s wonderful. Summer is and always has been my favorite time of year. When I was a kid, I looked forward to the school year ending because it meant one thing-- it was time for camp. I went to one specific camp every summer as long as I could remember, YMCA Camp Shaver. I was a camper until I was old enough to go through my camp’s leadership programs and ultimately wound up working for camp all throughout college. I was a counselor, then head counselor, and eventually ran the teen development program. As a camper, I learned valuable life skills like how to make friends and how to work in groups. I learned about recycling, gardening and how to take care of our planet. Because I went to a Y camp, I also learned their core values: respect, responsibility, honesty and caring.
When I was a camp counselor I saw amazing kids do incredible things. In a “Glee” class I taught, I saw shy kids break out of their comfort zones to sing solos and dance around (who knew kids like Journey so much?). I watched kids, who in school were reprimanded for their energy and enthusiasm, grow and shine while learning improv games in drama class. I watched those same kids quiet and focused, aiming a bow and arrow at an archery target. Camp is good for all kids, and I believe now and have always believed that all kids should go to camp.
Sure, your kids will come home dirty (probably, hopefully… you know the dirt is half the fun, right?) and maybe there will be a homesick night or two. But camp is WHERE IT’S AT. Send your kids off to live in nature for a minute, it’ll be good for them. Here are the top four reasons you should send your kids to camp this summer:
1. Develop a Sense of Independence & Self Responsibility
For a lot of kids, camp is the first time they spend more than a night away from home. This can be very empowering for a young person. While kids are heavily supervised and kept safe at all times, they are still expected to pitch in when it comes time to do chores, practice good table manners, keep their bunks tidy in their cabins and so on. Camp is a communal effort where good citizenship is rewarded. Homesickness is the biggest concern for most parents and campers, but any counselor worth their salt will make sure to keep their campers busy, happy and tuckered out.
Tip: If you’re worried about your camper feeling homesick, there are a few things you can do. At drop off, don’t linger or fuss. Help your camper move into their bunks, give them a hug and a kiss, let them know how excited you are for them and how much fun they’re going to have. Then, get out of there. The longer you linger, the more time your camper has to “change their mind” and give up before they give camp a chance. And if YOU are having a hard time in their absence, send them letters and care packages.
2. Continuing Education Outside of a Traditional School Setting
Most summer camps offer a variety of classes for their campers. There are traditional summer camp activities that most kids wouldn’t have a chance to try otherwise like rock climbing or archery. Environmental education is a big one, where campers learn about local geology and ecosystems. At Camp Shaver, we went on a short hike up to a spot known as the “fossil pit” and dug for actual fossils of prehistoric underwater creatures. Environmental education at camp is a truly immersive and hands on approach that you just can’t get sitting in a desk at a classroom. It’s one way to make sure your kids’ brains don’t turn to mush over summer break, too.
3. Children Learn Responsible Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution & Critical Thinking
Living with roommates can be challenging, and sharing a cabin with nine other kids your age is no exception. At camp, kids learn how to settle differences in a respectful and positive way. They’re encouraged to share their feelings and really listen to each other. At Camp Shaver, from the get-go we would set “cabin rules” based on suggestions from the campers. “What do you need to have a good time this week?”. We allowed children the opportunity to set their own boundaries and expectations of themselves and the people around them. I was amazed every week that without me telling them “keep your hands to yourself and your own property”, that a nine-year-old girl would always say it first.
4. Camp Fosters a Sense of Belonging & Acceptance, Builds Life-long Friendships, and Makes Meaningful Connections
Speaking from personal experience, I can say confidently that even after my very first week at Camp Shaver, I felt a part of the Camp Shaver family forever. I know that even now, after having been away from camp since 2011, that I have a place there. For years it was my second home. The camp director, Phil Beam, helped me through a difficult summer when my father was deployed in Iraq with the USAF. When I was a kid, even the camp cook, Jose, taught me how to play guitar. And years later, thanks to social media, I can reconnect with kids who let me know the impact I made on their lives as campers. Most of them have grown up, are off at college, have joined the military, some are getting married and starting families of their own. Nearly everything I learned about how to be a good person, how to take care of myself and others, how to set and reach personal goals, I learned from being a camper and working at camp.