Hanging out around a campfire with friends is one of the things many kids love about summer camp. (image from pxhere.com)
Every year when I was a child, the first day back at school after the summer break, we’d be expected to write an essay on “What I did during my summer holidays.” Back then, my family were so poor I rarely did anything much, but I was blessed with a fertile imagination so I concocted an amazing list of activities. After all, the first rule for a writer, which was my ambition even then, is never to let the truth interfere with a good story. Oh, how I would have loved to go to a summer sleepaway camp.
Fortunately, times have changed and my kids and various grandchildren have had that opportunity. So, I’ve rounded up relatives, kids, their friends and my friends, to ask what they loved and hated about summer camp.
These are some of the reactions I got in the “hate” department. “The toilets and showers – ugh!” “The mosquitoes, which feasted on my blood every day.” “My girlfriend, who was prettier than I was, got all the boys interested in her, especially the one I liked.” “The others were better at sports than I was, and I couldn’t swim. They laughed at me.”
None of those I quizzed however, failed to have lots of reasons to list under “things I loved.” “We put on a musical at the end of camp, and we did everything, including painting the scenery. It was great!” “Parents Day, when they would visit the camp and bring us wonderful things to eat, that they rarely bought for us at home. The chocolates were divine.” “I learnt all kinds of crafts, that I still do sometimes. We were taught basketry, jewelry-making, ceramics and how to press flowers.” “One day, we had a Backwards Day – it was terrific fun. We even wore our clothes inside out.” “I loved the campfires, under the stars. We’d sing together, roast potatoes and onions, it was heaven. I can still remember the feeling of being among friends under a sky filled with stars, and the wind in the treetops. I think that was true happiness.”
Whether or not a camp will be a positive experience for a child largely depends on the parents’ preparation. Don’t send them to a camp you once attended and enjoyed without considering how the camp may have changed or the difference between your needs and desires and those of your child.
Think about what your child needs – to learn new skills, develop more self-confidence and independence, maybe to improve proficiency in certain areas. For the latter, there are lots of specialty camps such as tennis, horse-riding, hiking, adventure, backpacking or gymnastics.
The camp you choose will depend on the age and level of independence of the child. The first sleepaway camp can be very frightening for a young child and sometimes the best way to prepare them is to take them beforehand to the campsite and explain all the activities that will take place there.
Teenagers usually welcome escaping home and discipline for awhile and spreading their wings. No matter what the age, you need to consider and investigate the accessibility of the camp, its medical facilities and security arrangements. You also need to consider any fears your child might have, such as if a below-average athlete will feel comfortable trying new skills and be allowed to work on them at their own pace. Often it helps if they have a friend or two among the campers and, of course, try to meet the counselors to assess that they are competent and sympathetic.
A camp has the potential to offer a child many positive and rewarding experiences. They can be fun, healthy and relaxing. Many of the programs provide an opportunity to develop new skills, and become more responsible and independent. The main reaction I got from kids who’d been to a good camp was: “Wow! It was great. I want to go again this year!”
Dvora Waysman is a Jerusalem-based author. She has written 14 books, including The Pomegranate Pendant, which was made into a movie, and her latest novella, Searching for Sarah. She can be contacted at [email protected] or through her blog dvorawaysman.com.