A case for camp

Children need summer camp. Whether it is secular or religious, one week or several, day camp or residential, children need to participate in camp.

I have no credentials to make this assertion. I am not a noted child psychologist or a Ph.D. in childhood development. I’m just a parent who has been to camp with kids. I’ve seen the advantages with my own eyes.

Kids play a parachute game
Where else but camp can kids have fun with parachutes (and not jump out of an airplane)? Photo by Rebecca Orton (http://rebeccaortonphotography.com/)

My particular preference is an overnight camp away from home, and my experience is mostly with church camp, although I have volunteered at Cub Scout day camp. For the past four years I have chaperoned the third through sixth graders from my church at PassportKIDS camp at the Clyde M. York 4-H Center in Crossville, Tenn.

Fresh off this year’s experience, here are five reasons why kids should attend summer camp, especially kids in the New South:

1. Unplugging. In this case, I mean literally. Parents have a sense that their children spend too much time in front of screens: television, computer, tablet, personal device, game system, etc. Unless it’s computer camp, kids have the opportunity to look up and see the world around them. They interact with each other, for good or bad, and learn how to relate to each other, solve problems and deal with the challenges of human relationships. They pay attention to their surroundings and notice details of the natural world that may have escaped them. They are more teachable and alert to possibilities and their potential for growth.

2. Moving. There is no better cure for summer coach potato syndrome than a good dose of camp. Kids are constantly in motion at camp, running, playing, competing, and even getting from place to place across the facility. Most of the recreational activities at PassportKIDS are creative games that don’t require athleticism. All kids need to do is commit to the activity and get in the game. Fun, not proficiency, is the goal. Sweating may produce a stinky suitcase and a cabin that could use generous quantities of Febreze, but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for burning calories and getting some exercise.

3. Cheering. Kids have nine months to use their indoor voices. At camp, they can let it all out, usually at the encouragement of hyped-up, over-zealous college students who seem to be fueled by Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor. It usually takes kids a little while to join in, but by the end of camp, the yelling and chanting and cheering have drawn out even the most extreme introverts. By selling out and rooting for each other and themselves, the kids tap into a source of self-confidence and selflessness that can cure narcissism, cynicism and several other “isms” that you don’t want your kids to have.

4. Listening. It’s nearly universal: kids at camp pay attention. When I am at home and have to get my kids to the dinner table, I have to repeat my instructions at least three times. When kids are at camp, they are more focused on what is being communicated. They hear you when you talk to them. They learn. They internalize truths so much more readily than when they are distracted by the noise and toys of home. If you don’t believe me, try being a chaperone one time. It will suddenly make you feel like the best parent ever. Kids listen at camp.

5. Being independent. This is the one point that my chaperoning may have impeded my children’s growth. When kids are at camp by themselves, they learn to get around, follow a schedule, keep up with their stuff, and generally take responsibility for themselves and each other in ways they can never do while a parent is hovering. I noticed this year at camp, rather than pick a bunk above mine or even near it, Barron picked the one at the opposite end of the room. He’s also had two summers of being at Boy Scout Camp on his own, and he’s found that he likes it. Children need to learn to make decisions for themselves, and as a parent, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing or knowing your child has made a good choice on his or her own. At camp when you’re not around, they have to make their own choices. Sure, they may come home with a fewer socks or towels, but that’s part of the learning experience, too. The next year, they’ll be more likely to keep up with their stuff.

Camp may be over for this year, but I’ve already marked my calendar for next summer. I can’t wait to go with the kids from Parkway again and see the next generation experience the wonders of camp.

What did you learn from camp? What are your fondest memories of camp? Did you have a positive or a negative experience? What do you think your kids get from their camp experiences?  Leave a comment below or you can’t ride in my little red wagon…. Oompa, ooompa, oooompapa.

No more pencils, no more books

School’s out for the summer. Now what?

One thing is for sure: sitting around doing nothing is not an option.

Carlton at the park
Summer is play time.

It seems that in the New South, everyone has somewhere to go … all the time. Our schedules don’t allow for plain ol’ downtime. You remember that, right? Get-up-at-11-stay-in-your-pajamas-watch-TV-barely-move-off-the-sofa-all-day-kind-of-lazy?

Those days are gone. The way we “relax” these days is to go and do.

Our schedule this summer includes weekend getaways, swimming lessons, camps, Vacation Bible School, business travel with the family and, of course, our annual beach vacation. The dreaded “I’m bored” should not cross the lips of my children all summer. They will be busier than I ever was during my elementary school years. But maybe that’s the problem.

There’s simply too much to do these days. We have too many options.

In the push for giving our children new experiences, keeping them occupied and expanding their horizons, we fill every possible minute of their lives leaving them no time for creative play, true discovery or even just relaxation.

During the school year we go from school to homework to scouts to music lessons to church to bed. When our first two children were preschoolers, we swore we would not be that family. Now, with three kids, two of them in school, we have come to expect this kind of schedule.

But what’s more insidious is the way our summers have become just as over-programmed and jam-packed. We don’t know how to slow down or let our kids have any time to recover. We forget that less is more.

Don’t get me started on television. Television is the enemy. I get that.  I don’t want my children spending their summer in front of Sponge Bob re-runs or Phineas and Ferb any more than the next parent.  I also don’t want to be filling their time so that they miss out on the experience of having to come up with something to do. Some of the best play my brothers and I had growing up occurred when we had an unscheduled afternoon or even day, and we had to decide how to fill it.

To that end, I was glad to hear Carla tell the children yesterday that there will be no screen time during the day this summer.  She even instituted a policy for herself. She got up early, finished her computer time before the kids came down, and didn’t look at a screen again all day. After a morning of playtime and five hours at the pool, she felt justified in letting the kids veg in front of Disney channel while she cooked dinner. At the end of the day, she called it a success.

Nothing on your to-do-list
This is an acceptable summer day agenda.

Forgive me for lecturing, but if you have children and have already mapped out an activity for every day this summer, go back and revise your plan just slightly to work in a few pajama days. And for those vacations to the beach, don’t fill every hour with extreme sports and touristy excursions.

Let your children experience something that may be one of the most important life skills you can offer them: give them some space and let them figure out how to fill the time.

And if that degenerates into Wrestlemania XXIX, time out in their rooms accomplishes the same thing.

Happy summer and y’all be safe.

How are you spending your summer? How did you spend your summer breaks from school as a child? Leave a comment below and share your plans or your strategies to balance engagement and relaxation.