What Your Child Really Learned at Camp | Benefits of Overnight Camp

8.9.14 by

By: Anna Black Morin, Director of Camp Timber Tops

You’ve heard it before, but as a camp director, with the end of camp upon us, I must remind you again: there’s just nothing like the gift of camp. My dad, the 3rd generation director of Pine Forest, always uses the same line at our opening campfire: the stars shine brighter at camp, and the people do too; you can be anyone you want to be at camp. You can’t give your children independence, resilience or confidence, but camp gives your children those gifts.  And with those gifts, at camp, kids have the opportunity to become the best, happiest, truest version of themselves. They get better with us. (And you didn’t think it was possible!) There’s a magic that happens when kids earn their own identity at camp, away from their real lives, even away from you. As a fourth-generation camp director, I’ve always held these truths to be self-evident. As a new mom, I now find all of it to be newly amazing, worth shouting from the rooftops. Your children are learning incredible things at camp. And, no, I’m not talking about that ceramic vase you’ll be getting for your anniversary (but, you’re welcome). In addition to hiking, biking, and boating, ask your camper these leading questions, and learn about the unbelievable skills that he or she has mastered at camp. As a camp director, I’m wowed by your children every day.

Here’s what to ask:

What do you eat for dinner when you don’t love dinner? 

Your son or daughter, the pickiest of picky eaters, is fending for herself in the dining hall and learning how to manage her mealtime needs on her own. Even the “pasta girls” as we call them at camp, the ones whose bodies are 98% penne, are getting by just fine. No, camp pasta probably isn’t the brand of pasta she demands at home. Yes, she’s okay with it. And yes, she definitely tried the guacamole everyone was talking about on taco night even though you told us she’d never go near avocados. Your kids are doing things that you ordinarily do for them. They’re managing their needs. Next time when you tell your daughter that you’re sure there’s something she’ll eat on the menu, feel confident! She’s been doing it all summer!

Who do you talk to at camp when you need something? 

Okay, and let’s say that he really isn’t into what’s for dinner. He’s had to tell someone when he’s hungry. He’s speaking up in the dining hall, on the courts, even in the health center when he’s feeling run down. Kids at camp advocate for themselves and learn how to meaningfully communicate with adults in ways they just don’t have to at home or in school. Why? Because you (appropriately) are there to help advocate. At camp, your kids are interacting with adults other than you in important and healthy ways. It’s remarkable!

What do you do when you wake up earlier than the bunk, earlier than your counselors? What do you do if you have trouble falling asleep at night?

Here’s the truth: she may still run into your room at an ungodly hour on Sunday mornings. Here’s the other truth: she’s learned how to occupy herself so she doesn’t have to. The beauty is that by occupy, I don’t mean plop down in front of the TV. I mean draw, write, read, listen to music, dream. Your camper, at this moment, has within him or her the ability to embrace tech-free down time, and it’s a beautiful thing.

What do you choose during choice activities?

The real world is all about commitments. Odds are, you’ve already paid for fall soccer or put down a deposit on dance lessons. It’s not that your son or daughter can’t get out of it, it’s just that he or she probably won’t. You know the activities he likes or dislikes. You can pretty much envision how extra-curricular time will be spent this year from September through June. Camp? Every day is an adventure. Sure, your son or daughter’s favorite camp activity might be soccer and gymnastics too. He or she may even be on the camp team. But my guess is that your camper also loves something that you never knew about, something that may never have been nurtured at home. Fishing! Cooking! Archery! Photography! Mountain biking! Camp isn’t just about perfecting skills, it’s about learning new ones. Camp gives freedom to explore, freedom for adventure.

How did you become friends with the campers in your bunk? 

Learning to make new friends in new environments is challenging no matter how old we are. It’s hard! It’s scary! It’s exhausting! But guess what? Your kid just did what many adults are afraid to do. Your campers inspire me to let go of inhibitions and open myself up to new friendships, to let new people in. What’s even more remarkable than your kid making new friends this summer? Your daughter has learned how to manage individual friendships within a group dynamic. She’s learned about the common good. She knows when it’s okay to play cards with one person and when it’s more appropriate to open up conversation to the whole bunk. She understands that you don’t have to like everyone the same but that you have to respect each person equally. She’s more open. She’s more in tune to other people’s needs. She’s kinder. There’s no greater gift.

I’m sure I speak for all camp directors when I say thank you for entrusting us with your most precious gift this summer. We don’t take the charge lightly, and we believe wholeheartedly that your son or daughter will be changed for the better by his or her time at camp.

Anna Black Morin
4th Generation Camp Director
Timber Tops

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  • Jill Maderer says:

    Great article and so true. I’m a timber tops alum and now a camp parent as well.

  • Blake says:

    Love this article and the ideas for what to ask. All very true!

  • Cheryl Magen says:

    Brilliantly articulated! All so true and a wonderful piece of learning that anxious parents should read again in June!

  • Ira Schweitzer says:

    I have been in camping, education and community work for 40 years. I am now a part time professor in a child and youth work program in Ontario. Your comments are right on. Growth during the summer in social skills and self reliance cannot be underestimated. I also have seen and think a mention of those with special needs cannot be underestimated. Many kids learn how to interact with others in a true community setting. I have seen bullies learn acceptance (with work from staff and counsellors) and have seen some special needs kids learn important life skills.

    I say to those who think school needs to be year round, they are missing an important aspect of maturation, living in community. I hope many parents and educators read your posting.

  • Kristin says:

    My kids, 8 year old Christopher and 10 year old Lucinda had their first experience with Camp Adams this summer. It was magical! we are deeply grateful for all the wonderful people that made it possible.

  • This is a great article. As the daughter of two former camp directors, much of this rings true for my life and the many kids who passed through our camp. Every kid should go to camp and every parent should know that it will change their child and help them grow up! I’m now the mother of 8 month old twins and can’t wait to send them to camp!

  • Chrissy Rescate says:

    This was my 11 y/o second summer at sleep away camp, loved this article. It details all the reasons I send her there. Wanting your child to grow into themselves isn’t enough, you need to send them to a safe place that encourages it BWC was exactly the place. Its where I learned how to be me when I was her age.

  • Chrissy Rescate says:

    This was my 11 y/o daughter’s second summer at sleep away camp, loved this article. It details all the reasons I send her there. Wanting your child to grow into themselves isn’t enough, you need to send them to a safe place that encourages it BWC was exactly the place. Its where I learned how to be me when I was her age.

  • Gina Abrams says:

    All you’ve shared here Anna resonates so deeply. As a parent of one daughter who just finished her 4th summer at CTT and another daughter who just finished her 2nd, I see, beyond any doubt, that they are indeed better for their time at camp…better in a way that will serve them extraordinarily well. They are more adventurous, more capable of navigating challenges, keener observers of themselves, more authentically connected in relationships, happier, freer, truer…all traits that make for an amazing, meaningful and joyful life. Thank you for holding those values so high and creating the environment to nurture them all summer long at Camp Timber Tops.

  • Paul Brouse says:

    Ms. Morin,
    I too have been a Camp Director for many years. I agree that campers gain in the areas you mention above. However, your article makes a point of ‘doing this without you (the parent)’. While it is true that much of this occurs while the parent is absent, the tone of the article could be taken as the parent is an impediment to the process. I don’t think that is how you intended the tone, but it is how I read it. I think we can shine the light at the benefits of camping without separating the parents.

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