What Your Child REALLY Learned at Camp
You’ve heard it before, but as a camp director, one last time, with August on the horizon, I must remind you again: there’s just nothing like the gift of camp. My dad, the 3rd generation director of Pine Forest Camp, always uses the same line at our opening campfire: the stars shine brighter at camp, and the people do too; you can be anyone you want to be at camp. You can’t give your children independence, resilience or confidence, but camp gives your children those gifts. And with those gifts, at camp, kids have the opportunity to become the best, happiest, truest version of themselves. They get better with us. (And you didn’t think it was possible!)
There’s a magic that happens when kids earn their own identity at camp, away from their real lives, even away from you. As a fourth-generation camp director, I’ve always held these truths to be self-evident. As a new mom, I now find all of it to be newly amazing, worth shouting from the rooftops. Your children are learning incredible things at camp. And, no, I’m not talking about that ceramic vase you’ll be getting for your anniversary (but, you’re welcome). In addition to hiking, biking, and boating, ask your camper these leading questions, and learn about the unbelievable skills that he or she has mastered at camp. As a camp director, I’m wowed by your children every day.
Here’s what to ask:
1. What do you eat for dinner when you don’t love dinner?
Your son or daughter, the pickiest of picky eaters, is fending for herself in the dining hall and learning how to manage her mealtime needs on her own. Even the “pasta girls” as we call them at Camp Timber Tops, the ones whose bodies are 98% penne, are getting by just fine. No, camp pasta probably isn’t the brand of pasta she demands at home. Yes, she’s okay with it. And yes, she definitely tried the guacamole everyone was talking about on taco night even though you told us she’d never go near avocados. Your kids are doing things that you ordinarily do for them. They’re managing their needs. Next time when you tell your daughter that you’re sure there’s something she’ll eat on the menu, feel confident! She’s been doing it all summer!
Who do you talk to at camp when you need something?
Okay, and let’s say that he really isn’t into what’s for dinner. He’s had to tell someone when he’s hungry. He’s speaking up in the dining hall, on the courts, even in the health center when he’s feeling run down. Kids at camp advocate for themselves and learn how to meaningfully communicate with adults in ways they just don’t have to at home or in school. Why? Because you (appropriately) are there to help advocate. At camp, your kids are interacting with adults other than you in important and healthy ways. It’s remarkable!
What do you do when you wake up earlier than the bunk, earlier than your counselors? What do you do if you have trouble falling asleep at night?
Here’s the truth: she may still run into your room at an ungodly hour on Sunday mornings. Here’s the other truth: she’s learned how to occupy herself so she doesn’t have to. The beauty is that by occupy, I don’t mean plop down in front of the TV. I mean draw, write, read, listen to music, dream. Your camper, at this moment, has within him or her the ability to embrace tech-free down time, and it’s a beautiful thing.
What do you choose during choice activities?
The real world is all about commitments. Odds are, you’ve already paid for fall soccer or put down a deposit on dance lessons. It’s not that your son or daughter can’t get out of it, it’s just that he or she probably won’t. You know the activities he likes or dislikes. You can pretty much envision how extra-curricular time will be spent this year from September through June. Camp? Every day is an adventure. Sure, your son or daughter’s favorite camp activity might be soccer and gymnastics too. He or she may even be on the camp team. But my guess is that your camper also loves something that you never knew about, something that may never have been nurtured at home. Fishing! Cooking! Archery! Photography! Mountain biking! Camp isn’t just about perfecting skills, it’s about learning new ones. Camp gives freedom to explore, freedom for adventure.
How did you become friends with the campers in your bunk?
Learning to make new friends in new environments is challenging no matter how old we are. It’s hard! It’s scary! It’s exhausting! But guess what? Your kid just did what many adults are afraid to do. Your campers inspire me to let go of inhibitions and open myself up to new friendships, to let new people in. What’s even more remarkable than your kid making new friends this summer? Your daughter has learned how to manage individual friendships within a group dynamic. She’s learned about the common good. She knows when it’s okay to play cards with one person and when it’s more appropriate to open up conversation to the whole bunk. She understands that you don’t have to like everyone the same but that you have to respect each person equally. She’s more open. She’s more in tune to other people’s needs. She’s kinder. There’s no greater gift.
I’m sure I speak for all camp directors when I say thank you for entrusting us with your most precious gift this summer. We don’t take the charge lightly, and we believe wholeheartedly that your son or daughter will be changed for the better by his or her time at camp.
Anna Black Morin
4th Generation Camp Director
Camp Timber Tops
(Originally published on the Summer365 Blog!)