My three kids arrived home from summer camp this week after seven weeks away. For those who didn’t grow up with the tradition of going to camp every summer or in cultures that don’t have long school breaks, it may seem odd for parents to send their children away from home for weeks at a time.
For those who did attend sleepaway camp however, most had the experience that my kids have. They cannot wait to go each year and often don’t want to come home at the end of camp because they’re having such an amazing time.
After hearing recaps about their summer camp adventures, I’m reminded of the invaluable life skills that this experience can offer as well some of the practical knowledge that seems to be fading from society, but is actually needed more than ever. Here are a few notables:
- Learning personal responsibility
Children at sleepaway camp don’t have their parents around to pick up the slack or whisper constant reminders in their ears. For example, when kids forget to put on sunscreen, they get burned. If they forget their cleats, they don’t play soccer. While painful, these are critical life lessons.
Pain is a powerful teacher, as I’ve seen with my middle son. He started getting migraines last year and we were worried about how he’d manage while away. After experiencing his first migraine at camp, he stepped up and internalized what his body needed. Ever since, he’s been mindful about avoiding situations that tend to trigger these headaches and has had fewer migraines as a result.
- Getting out of your comfort zone.
Summer camp encourages kids to try new things in a safe, supportive environment. While campers certainly aren’t expected to enjoy everything that they try, they’re at least expected to give it a shot.
The first year my daughter arrived at camp, she was afraid of the water and was anxious about taking the basic swim test. But, when she had to step up to the expectations set at camp, she surprised even herself. By the end of the first week, she chose to complete the half-mile lake swim. A few weeks later, she got up on water skis. This year at camp (her last), she passed her lifeguard test.
- Values over rules.
We are living in a generation of over-parenting and micromanagement. Very few parents and leaders are able to step back and provide values, coaching and guidelines without stepping in and doing the work themselves.
Before my kids leave for camp each year, I remind them about our family’s core values and give them some examples for how they could live them at camp, because it’s all I can do. Just as parents need to let their kids grow up, leaders need to set high expectations for their team members and give them the resources and room to meet them on their own terms.
4. Learning to lead.
Leadership is a tough job, and good leadership takes a lot of practice. Camp has given my kids the chance to practice making decisions and handling the consequences. Each has had the opportunity to lead their respective age groups in Color War, a camp-wide competition that involves athletics, singing, bunk inspections and even silent meals that are judged for points.
To be elected as a group leader, they had to write a speech about why they thought they’d be up to the task and present it in front of their peers. Once elected, they had to set up the teams and organize line-ups for the competitions. Sometimes their group won. Sometimes they lost. Either way, they had to learn to do both well. And, when their friends weren’t happy about their decisions, they had to learn to accept the feedback.
- Going offline for relationship-building.
Our kids’ camps have strict “no technology” policies. This means that our children get a long break from social media and, instead, get social the old-fashioned way—by strengthening their real-world interpersonal skills. The beautiful thing is that they don’t even miss their devices and they are honestly happier without them.
Our kids have gained leadership skills and independence at camp. They’ve learned self-advocacy, become more responsible and have had the space to discover what they enjoy most. And all of these things have happened without their parents being present. We could all benefit more from the lessons of summer camp.
The real magic happens for others when we are willing to let go.
Quote of The Week
“Tell Me and I Forget; Teach Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Learn.”