Every kid should go to camp

Last year, I went to camp with Emma and her Grade 6 classmates for a year-end camp trip to Camp Brebeuf in Rockwood, Ontario. We spent almost 3 days and 2 nights outside, except for when we slept and ate our meals.  As a parent volunteer, it was pretty cool to experience (again) how powerful camp can be for kids. It has been a long, long time since I was a camp counsellor (BEST SUMMERS EVER!!!) but being at camp with the kids brought it all back and just reaffirmed what I have known since I led my own campers when I was a teenager….

Every kid should go to camp.

I don’t mean indoor day camps, either. Dance/math/science/cooking/craft/whatever indoor camps are awesome and definitely have an important place in a kid’s life.  In fact, my own outdoor kid spends an amazing week inside at a dance camp each summer. What I’m talking about here is the kind of camp where kids are outside all day, getting sun-kissed cheeks, bites from bugs and the smell of campfire semi-permanently infused into their hair.

I watched our Grade 6 campers run like maniacs playing  “Capture the Flag”, do a night hike through the forest without flashlights to guide them, conquer ropes courses and rock climbing walls, and build shelters and campfires in the forest.  I also watched them cheer each other on, help their classmates accomplish new (and sometimes scary) tasks and learn surprising things about each other. These kids literally reached new heights, with the help of their classmates.

Did I mention the fireflies? The night hike took us to a spot where fireflies danced in the bushes around us. I can guarantee you, that a lot of those kids had never, ever seen a firefly before that night.

While there may have been a few trying moments with our campers, there were far more great things happening over those almost three days and two nights. A couple of our campers have some very real challenges, and we wondered how they would handle the trip. It turns out that the ones we worried about absolutely shone in the outdoors.  One camper is a kid I’ve known since Emma started school seven years ago. Social situations can be a challenge for her. She tends to disengage very easily. And when things really get overwhelming, she cries. But at camp she was completely in her element. This kid ended up teaching me the right way to hold a bow at the archery pit. In fact, she was extremely diplomatic when she corrected me from holding it upside down. True story.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Some people snore. Some kids don’t smell very good. A bunk bed is never as comfy as your bed at home. The mosquitoes were brutal. And at times, so was the Grade 6 drama. Some kids discovered that they weren’t ready to be away from home. Some didn’t think they were ready, but discovered that they were. Some campers discovered that when you are stuck with people you don’t know well, are not a part of your clique or you may not like, that you still have to follow rules and be respectful. In fact, at camp, you might even have to follow MORE rules and being respectful is mandatory.  Even this part of camp is an important part of growing up.

I watched kids start activities by saying “I can’t” which then turned into “Maybe a bit” and ended-up being “I DID IT!”.  Most of the time, that progression was helped with the support of their activity group-mates. I saw new friendships develop and established groups welcoming others into their fold.

Would any of this happen if we weren’t at camp last week? I’m not sure. I don’t really think a lot of what happened at camp would have ever happened for some of those kids. What I am sure about is that there is something about being bonded by nature, a camp bunkhouse and a dining hall that brings kids together and helps them grow-up just a little bit more, while still giving them permission to be a kid who can get dirty, run around like a maniac playing “Capture the Flag” and watch fireflies dance in the dark.

Camp was a blast for the grown-ups, too. We also made new friends and connections that may never have happened if it weren’t for camp. I felt a bit like I had stepped back in time to when I was a counsellor all those summers ago, but with better privileges like a grown-up bunkhouse with our very own washroom and shower. And yes – I did take the top bunk. Apparently, my need to sleep after being in the fresh air all day with a bunch of 12 year-olds far outweighed my fear of falling off of high places.

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