When parents drop their campers off at camp, they see a well-oiled machine: the people, the facility, and the programs all working together to create indelible memories and good, clean fun. They see the smiling faces of campers and counselors, rustic cabins and historic buildings, beautiful mountain views and the backdrop for endless summer bliss. What they don’t see is the magic that comes to life as soon as the last set of parents give one final hug and wave goodbye to their camper; they can’t see the spirit that fills this wonderful place once mom and dad have disappeared. Because of this, parents might not even understand why their children beg to return to camp year after year, and wonder if there is something they have missed. Some parents may have experienced their own magic at camp as children and long to give a piece of that to their sons and daughters. And still others are just loving, intentional parents trying to give their children the best opportunities in life — experiences they may never have had themselves.
As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to have everything it takes to be happy, healthy, confident, and successful. We hope they get into the best schools, so we get them the best tutors to increase their knowledge and refine their intellect. We want them to be the best athletes, so we get them the best coaches to sharpen their skills and magnify their talents. With the best of intentions, we sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to invest in them each and everyday. Because I am a parent, I know this all too well.
You see, as a parent, while I believe my children are exceptional, they are more likely to be average in the things this world values. Odds are they will not find the cure for cancer, star on Broadway, or play in the NFL, but I can’t seem to shake the need to help them try to dream big and shoot for the moon. This is what good parents do, and this is what the world tells us we should be doing. Do more to get more. Never give up. Quitters never win and winners never quit. We encourage, support, and sometimes push our children — simply because we love them.
Although pouring into our children is done with the best of intentions, this loving encouragement results in late nights, packed weekends, and often over-committed lives. We bounce from sports practice to guitar lessons, art class to Boy Scouts, haircuts to school projects, and somehow we manage to squeeze in a meal that may or may not be consumed while driving down the interstate and calling out spelling words.
As a camp director, I realize that this busy life we have created for our family is precisely the reason camp is so important for our kids. At camp, we value the simple things in life, like disconnecting from the world and living with less in order to get so much more. At our house, we are as guilty as any family of signing up for one more activity (what’s wrong with one more?), saying yes to one more birthday party (which means one more run to Target for an iTunes gift card), and buying just one more video game (to provide one more distraction to prevent boredom for our children). We fill our lives with errands, projects, and a long list of “to-dos” which, at the end of the day, fail to add any significant value to our lives.
Outside: The Place to Be
Gone are the carefree days of my youth. I remember coming home from school and racing through the necessities: a quick snack, homework, and chores, just so I could finally get outside! It was outside the house where we transformed into princesses preparing for the royal ball or suited up as courageous cops chasing down a band of robbers. We opened lemonade stands and neighborhood art galleries, and formed some almost famous garage bands. There were no cell phones, iPads, or computers in the house, no Wi-Fi or streamed television series. We didn’t even have the Disney Channel! Staying inside resulted in boredom. Outside was the place to be, at least until mom called us in for dinner.
Today, at least at my house, this dynamic is completely reversed. There are far too many distractions and temptations lurking inside, so playing outside seems like punishment. With our busy lives, who really has time to play outside, anyway?
This is why we need camp!
Camp is the one gift that I cannot afford to not give my children. Camp is their escape from our hectic schedule and the pressures of school, sports, and social media demands. It is the best excuse to take away the electronics I bought them, and allow them to connect with people, nature, and the world around them. Camp is how I show my children love, because what camp gives them in just a few weeks takes us, as parents, months to provide.
• Three Square Meals with Cabin Mates: Sitting around the table three times a day is something I only dream of doing with my kids. The conversations shared, the laughs exchanged, and the memories made around a table are priceless. Without phones, social media, or documenting the meal for the world to see, these meals just have to be experienced.
• Exciting Activities: Where else can you zip-line through the trees, shoot a rifle, ride a horse, and swim at the base of a waterfall all in one day? We live here all year long and my kids still only have these adventures during camp. Where else can you hike to the top of a mountain summit and witness breathtaking views without the urge to Snapchat such an unforgettable moment?
• Traveling Everywhere on Foot: Camp is a little like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry; everyone knows everyone and great conversations are shared when you pass your neighbor as you travel through your day. If trees could talk, oh the stories they would tell of the laughter, joy, and inside jokes that echo beneath their lofty branches. No need for cars, cell phones, or texting, anyone you need is just a few steps away.
• Connecting with Nature: The physical benefits of being outside are obvious, but children are happier and healthier when they experience the outdoors. Free play in natural areas enhances children’s cognitive flexibility, problem-solving ability, creativity, self-esteem and self-discipline.
• Rainy Day Boredom: Technology has provided a quick-fix for boredom, but without technology at camp, our campers learn to problem solve, get creative, and use their imaginations. When a rainy day cancels their activity period at the Blob, they find new ways to smile, laugh and play — without looking for a solution on the Internet.
• Family: Living in a cabin unit, campers feel a part of a close-knit community that accepts them and loves them just they way they are. This cabin unit, your family at camp, nurtures the innate need in every one of us to belong and to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Separation Makes the Heart Grow . . .
After weeks away from home, my kids always come back a little bit wiser, braver, and taller than when they left. At camp, they’ve had the opportunity to interact with positive role models who have taken time to listen, talk, relax, reflect, and think through daily life with them. My kids have learned to work selflessly within a group, to responsibly make their own choices, to discover, grow, fail, succeed, mature, and gain independence. The life skills they take away from camp are necessary tools on their path to healthy, productive lives.
That Annual Summer Getaway
Every summer, thousands of children travel to camp to experience a simpler life. Tucked away in the woods under a brightly shining sun and beside a peacefully flowing river, camp is a place of profound simplicity that sparks grand imagination. Camp is a real-life Neverland, full of fantastic characters, great adventures, and a little bit of mischief. It’s at camp that my children capture the immeasurable richness of friendships, independence, confidence, and golden summer memories that warm their hearts until they return once more.
When parents pick up their kids from camp, they may not see the magic themselves, but they simply cannot miss the joy on each exuberant face that bears witness to it.