I had almost forgotten the sweet escapes of summer camp from my youth until I headed to summer camp with my sons’ multi-aged homeschool group. The buzz of going to a summer camp with my 2 and 5-year-old started as soon as I was packing. The wave of my excitement spread to my kids as we drove the three hours to summer camp. There was an air of anticipation and enthusiasm as we neared our destination. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous. What would camp be like now as a mom with two young children?
Reliving Summer Camp as a Mom
Memories came flooding back as we pulled into the rustic little cabin we would call home for three days. The six rickety bunks with blue foam pads seemed all too familiar. My kiddos were vibrating with enthusiasm.
Savoring Newfound Freedom
We unpacked and headed straight for the playground. The older kids took mine under their wing, and a game of freeze tag was soon underway. My son was thrilled with the inclusion and freedom that was upon him in this new summer camp experience.
I recall that dreamy feeling of being a kid at an overnight summer camp for the first time. There was so much to do and freedom—oh, sweet, sweet freedom! The camp counselors, teachers, and parent supervisors never seemed to be around when we had free time. Although, as a parent, I now realize they were likely keeping an eye on us from a distance, the illusion of being free in that new environment was liberating. When the chaperons were around, they were so much fun. The feeling of summer camp was contagious for everyone.
The excitement of waking up that first morning at a summer camp with my son and daughter was palpable. They were gleeful and carefree. As we walked into the mess hall for breakfast, my son exclaimed, “Mom, you don’t even need to make your own coffee this morning!”
I’m glad he knows where my priorities lie.
Watching the Magic of Camp From the Outside
After breakfast, all the kids went for some free time on the playground while I enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee with other parents before the activities began. The camaraderie that a summer camp builds is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I can’t explain the exact dynamic that makes this happen, but I think it’s the sense of community created through shared experiences.
When I was young and at summer camp, being immersed with other kids 24/7 cultivated bonds of friendship that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We were all the best versions of ourselves. Cliquey barriers that existed in the classroom broke down, and we were just able to be together. I saw that happening between my kids and their classmates as they grew closer through a variety of activities teaching them lessons in a new way.
Teaching Cooperation and Collaboration
The first activity that the counselors had planned was shelter building. They took us for a walk deep into the forest, made teams, and gave the kids 45 minutes to make a shelter out of forest material that would fit their whole team and withstand a bucket of water poured on it. This team-building game felt next-level compared to when I was a kid, and we played games like sardines, capture the flag, and team scavenger hunts.
In the end, most of the shelters had a bit of water get in. The kids weren’t fussing about who won but more about their process and what they would change next time. There were no distractions and most definitely no Wi-Fi available to Google ‘how to make a shelter’. The kids were in the moment and focused on the task at hand—how it used to be when we were kids.
As the day turned to evening, we found ourselves around the campfire. There are so many fun campfire games, songs and stories. For example, one evening, we did an around-the-world story. This type of group storytelling is when one person starts a story, and the person beside them picks up where they left off and continues around the campfire until the story ends. This sparked so much creativity and the kids’ imaginations were running wild.
Facing New Challenges Fosters Growth
My all-time, hands down, favorite summer camp memories were on the high ropes. A high ropes course consists of different obstacles such as log walks, swings, ropes to walk across, and ropes to crawl through. The catch is they are about 20 feet above the ground. My son was ready to try it and I was ecstatic.
He was a little unsure as he started to climb the rungs up to the log walk. When he was about 20 feet off the ground, he had to transfer from the pole over to the log. He looked at me, and I could sense his fear. I cheered him on from below and reminded him that he was attached to a safety harness. He took two steps on the log and started to whimper. He was visibly scared. I encouraged him to take another step and tried to stay strong, but my heartstrings were aching, feeling his fear. I felt so helpless on the ground, only able to watch the scene play out.
Just as I realized I had to pull it together, I watched my son try to regain control by taking slow, deep breaths. We commonly work on our breathing, being mindful, and grounding ourselves with our surroundings to help calm down.
After some additional encouragement from other parents on the ground, I saw a fiery look of determination take over his face, and I could barely make out his whisper, “I’m going to do it.” He bravely pushed through his fear as if from a primal instinct. He continued to put one foot in front of the other—arms spread wide for balance. I cried when he reached the other side. He knelt down and beamed with pride.
Experiences like this are life-changing. Pushing through fears in a safe, supported, and structured environment is fundamental for personal growth. As a mother, this experience made me uncomfortable. I was feeling all the big feelings watching him struggle. But he did it, and he did it without me jumping in to help him. Our kids will surprise us if we let them. They will push beyond our expectations (and limitations).
Our kids will surprise us if we let them. They will push beyond our expectations (and limitations).
This experience would have been very different if I had swooped in to the rescue. He would have felt defeated. But instead, this experience left him elevated and proud of himself. Sometimes it’s necessary to move our instincts aside by not trying to fix every situation or rescue our kids when life gets hard. I realized camp was teaching me lessons, too.
Summer Camp Feels Even More Needed Today
Childhood seems so padded compared to when we were kids. As parents, we are constantly told about ways to increase safety for our children due to the many dangers. As a result, we worry about our children’s safety more than ever before. This fear has changed the way we parent. We can be overprotective, scared of our kids failing and become unintentional hovering parents. Yes, our kids need safety and boundaries, but they also need the freedom to figure out the world on their own.
Summer camp is one way to give them this freedom. So I will continue to seek out this type of activity for my children, where they can disconnect from technology and everyday life stresses. Where they can be present and participate in activities that safely push their limits and build their confidence.
The perks of attending summer camp were different as a parent, but that feeling of watching my young children included with this older group of kids is something I will never forget. They created a beautiful, inclusive, and supportive community and hopefully, we can continue to build on it every year.