During the school year, my biggest concern was that my 9-year-old daughter, Jane, is not the greatest speller. (Hey, I'm an editor.) Yet I was thrilled when her first letter from sleepaway camp arrived in a pink envelope and exclaimed, "Camp is asome!" (It was the only word she misspelled in whole letter.)
I loved camp as a kid, and so did my older daughter, but Jane has always been more clingy and scared by nature. However, it was her idea to go away to camp this summer and she's been anticipating it eagerly every single day for the past year. (Seriously: On the way to school, she'd always say, "Let's talk about camp!")
In the week before she left, she hardly seemed nervous. But when it was finally time for her to say goodbye and get on the bus, she started to cry. "I don't want to go," she said to us. "Camp is going to be awesome!" I reassured her. "You'll have a great summer." I gave her a big hug, and put on my sunglasses as she boarded the bus so she wouldn't see my own tears as I waved. I knew in my heart that she'd be fine—but seeing a smiling, thumbs-up photo on the camp website that night helped me breathe a sigh of relief.
One of my favorite books for parents is Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, by our wise advisor, Dr. Michael Thompson. It's about the "magic of camp," but it's also about how kids learn some of the most valuable lessons when we're not hovering over them. Here are some of the reasons why I am excited for kids who are lucky enough to go to sleepaway camp.
Chores are no big deal. At home, I sometimes have to remind my daughter to make her bed or put her plate in the dishwasher. Clean-up at camp is part of the fun. Campers compete to have the neatest bunk. At Jane's camp, each bunk has a job wheel and the kid whose daily chore is the least pleasant (cleaning the toilets) gets the privilege of taking the first shower.
Counselors rule. Of course, it's more motivating to be told what to do by a cool 20-year-old than by your parents. Young people who decide to spend their summers being counselors are a special breed—they want to share the carefree joys of camp with the next generation. Kids are more likely to push themselves (to jump into the lake, to sign up for the talent show) when they're encouraged by their counselor buddies. There are also wonderful older counselors (many are teachers), who make a lasting impression on kids.
Kids can conquer their fears. Jane is still wary of the dark. She likes to sleep with the overhead light in her bedroom dimmed, but I'm sure there's no light in her camp bunk at night. She sometimes has an irrational overreaction to bugs, which are plentiful at camp. She has been a picky eater and is often truly afraid to taste an unfamiliar food, but I'll bet she'll be more willing to try new dishes when surrounded by her bunkmates than at my dining room table.
Screens fade from memory. Who needs an iPad or TV when you're busy outdoors all the time? And getting mail (the paper kind) is one of the highlights of the day.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Yup, kids love camp, but they're always happy to see their parents again. And missing our kids while they're gone makes us appreciate them even more when they're back. (Will they clean the toilets at home??)