It’s that time of year, the time when parents are bombarded with emails and snail mails asking them to send their children to camp. While there are many different kinds of camps that focus on everything from making your child the next Peyton Manning to teaching them how to audition for Broadway, every child should have the opportunity to experience a good, old-fashioned outdoor camp, especially girls.
Why, you ask, is it so important to send my daughter to camp? Simply put, there are things that your daughter will learn at camp that she might never learn at home, and I don’t mean building a fire or pitching a tent, though she may learn those skills as well. The truth is that there are things that are much more important that she will learn to do that you can’t teach her but that she can learn on her own through experience and observation. How do I know this? Because after twelve years of volunteering at an all-girls camp and ten years of running the camp, I have seen it happen over and over again.
Imagine your five-year-old pulling out her own clothes, dressing herself, and even tying her shoes. Oh, she doesn’t? You’ve tried over and over to teach her about the bunny crawling into the hole, but she just can’t do it by herself? You might be surprised. I can’t count the amount of girls who have come to me with brilliant smiles because they just tied their own shoes for the very first time. All of the other girls can tie their own shoes, and suddenly that stubborn, strong-willed, “mommy, please do it for me” child wants to accomplish this task for herself. Add to the mix a totally cool, upbeat, teenage girl who encourages her every morning to get dressed, fix her hair, tie her shoes, even brush her teeth, and every little girl wants to prove that she, too, can be the big girl that her teen counselor knows she can be. I remember the first time my niece came to camp. My brother was amazed when she came home and insisted on fixing her own hair “the way Giggles fixed it at camp.”
Handing Things Out of Anyone’s Control
It’s raining today, and your daughter refuses to go to school because she has to walk from the front door to the car. Imagine her running, giggling all the way, from her cabin to the unit house to play games with her friends until the rain passes. Imagine her swimming in the rain (as long as there’s no thunder and lightning), not only without complaint, but without even noticing the falling drops. When it rains at camp, the activities must go on. The lesson leaned – life goes on. Just because something comes along that we can’t control doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. As long as it’s safe, everything continues. And if it’s not safe to be outdoors, we improvise – games and activities inside the program center, extra snacks, maybe even a movie, whatever it takes to keep having fun. Life throws you curves, and time at camp teaches girls that they can hit a home run no matter what the pitch is.
Trying New Things
Whether it’s a meal she would never eat at home or an activity she would never dream of trying, camp is all about doing something new. We once had a girl at camp who quickly gained the nickname, Carrots, because, as you may have guessed, she would eat nothing but carrots. By the end of day two, she was trying new foods and asking for seconds. Camp makes you hungry! And if all of the other girls are eating it, there’s a good chance, she will, too. The same goes for trying things that she might never do with or for Mom. No offense moms, but there are far too many times that we don’t push our daughters to do challenging or even scary things because, well, because they’re our daughters. Part of it is the fear that something will happen to them, and part of it is because we often don’t give them credit for being able to do it, or, let’s be honest, we don’t want to do it ourselves. There are few things that get me smiling more than watching a little girl go from crying her eyes out and refusing to even climb the ladder to hearing her squeals of delight as she glides through the air on a zip line. The satisfaction comes not from knowing that she was talked into going, but from knowing that she convinced herself that she could.
Coping With Fears
There was once a little girl at camp who cried herself to sleep every night. She cried through programs, she cried through meals, she cried through swimming and archery and everything else that the other girls did with joy. This year, that little girl is the floor manager at CNN and an adult camp counselor. She has been coming since the age of five, through grade school, middle school, high school, and college. She comforts little girls and tells them her story. After twenty years of coming to camp, she boasts that there isn’t any place she’d rather be. Whether it’s zip lining over a deep ravine, being away from Mom and Dad, or surviving thunderstorms and spiders, girls leave camp knowing that they can overcome anything. And nine out of ten of those girls will be back the next year.
Discovering the Unknown
There is so much that girls can learn and discover at camp, and some of them might surprise you. Inner city girls come to camp and see giant, sunbathing turtles for the first time. Girls with no siblings learn to share a room (actually, a cabin or a tent) and eat at a table of twelve, talking, laughing girls. First time campers feel the power that comes with spending the week away from home. More importantly, girls learn tolerance, respect, and empathy. This past year, we had a little girl with autism attend camp for the first time. At first, the other girls weren’t sure what to think about Brie (pictured above). Some may have been scared, and several were apprehensive about being near her or working with her because they recognized that she was different. It didn’t take long for them to see her as a beautiful, loving, intelligent girl who isn’t really any different than the rest of them but who just needed their assistance and their patience. While Brie’s mother felt that her daughter left camp having learned so many new things, it was really the staff and the other campers who truly learned the most. We are all better for spending the week with her.
Becoming a Leader
The vast majority of girls who return to our camp have one goal in mind – to keep coming long enough to become a teen counselor. Those ultra cool young ladies who brush hair, hold hands, dry tears, and read stories are the envy of every little girl at camp. The girls want to grow up to be just like those teens with intriguing camp names like Giggles, Broadway, Twizzler, and Trouble. That is quite an honor because those teenagers grow up to be remarkable young women. Many of them, like Tinkerbell who works at CNN, continue coming to camp through high school, college, and beyond. One of our counselors is a schoolteacher who comes to camp every year with her own daughters. She has been coming since she was in grade school. We have several college girls who plan to be doctors, nurses, and lawyers. We have adults who are in those fields and others: a school administrator, a former crime scene technician, heck, even a published author. Many of our all-volunteer staff went to camp themselves, either at our camp or a similar one. They know the importance of instilling goals and confidence in our campers so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow.
So before you delete that email or throw away that brochure, picture your daughter. Not the daughter you live with, the one you see every day, the one you dress and coddle. Picture your daughter as an independent, self-confident, successful adult. She can get that way through a number of routes, but the one she will always remember and want to return to again and again is an all-girls summer camp. She will develop friendships that will last a lifetime and memories that will both entice and inspire her to become the person you always knew she could be. What more could you ask for?
Amy Schisler is an author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages who lives with husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her latest book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three eBooks of 2015. You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Crabbing With Granddad (2013)
A Place to Call Home (2014)
Picture Me (2015)