Summer is now in full swing, which means school-aged kids have officially traded in their classrooms and cafeteria lunches for the beach and high-fructose freezies. As a result, parents are faced with the prospect of not having anywhere to send their kids for six hours every day -- a quandary many deal with by sending their children away for even longer: to summer camp.
This decision may come with varying degrees of guilt, but as a former camper the best advice I could give is to just do it.
Of course, only you know your child and what they can handle. However when I first started going to summer camp at the age of eight, it could certainly be said that I was not a happy camper.
My older brother went to camp for many years and I'd heard stories of his camp shenanigans, so I was excited to follow in his footsteps. But this was my first time sleeping away from family, and about an hour after I said goodbye to my parents I became a blubbering mess of homesickness. I wailed almost non-stop for the first couple days and begged to go home.
Once, I even cried so hard they sent me to the nurse's hut to read Scooby Doo comics until I calmed down enough to rejoin my fellow campers.
I feel truly sorry for the staff that had to deal with me -- camp counsellors are truly unsung heroes. It would have been much easier for them to just acquiesce to my pleadings and send me back to my family. Nonetheless, their perseverance in me paid off.
Once I stopped missing home, I started actually having fun. So much so that by the end of the week when it was time to go home I cried because I didn't want to leave. When the brochures for camp arrived in the mail the following year, my parents asked if I wanted to go back. My answer was an unequivocal yes.
This was the first of eight trips to summer camp for me. Even though I only got to spend a single week per year there, camp quickly became a part of my identity.
One of the staples of my camp is that they tie beads on string around your wrist for different achievements, like swimming, archery, rock climbing and such. These beads became a source of competition and pride, so many campers would come home with a rainbow of plastic baubles around their wrists. I assume most people would get rid of the beads when they got home, but one year in fifth grade I refused to cut them off. I kept them on until December, when the cheap string binding the beads to my wrist must have become a virtual microcosm of bacterial life.
My mom finally forced me to remove the beads before Christmas. I sobbed as she took out the scissors and snipped, revealing my bare wrist for the first time in months.
As I went through the daily struggles of a fifth grader, it had been a comfort to keep a little piece of camp alive on my arm. Now that I am an adult, I no longer wear plastic beads as jewellery, but I do still hold my memories of summer camp near and dear to me.
I am moving across the world in under two months, and one of the items I'm taking along is my faded camp T-shirt. As I settle into my new life, every once and awhile I'll be able to put it on and be transported to blissful afternoons on the wharf and evenings around the campfire.
So parents, send your kids to summer camp. Even if they grumble about being torn away from their WiFi, the people they meet and the experiences they have will soon make them forget about Facebook, if only for a few days.
Camp will make an impact on your children, even in years to come when they trade their summers at the beach for summers in the office. Because camp isn't just a place, it's a state of mind.
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