by Christina L. Moreland
Just a few months ago the idea of him considering going off to overnight camp for a week was unthinkable. He had done daytime camps before, and at the time, loved them. But then never wanted to go back. Nothing bad had happened. He just simply preferred the flexibility and unstructured schedule summer provided.
One day at church one of the overnight camps was there passing out brochures. I had already predetermined a handful of potential candidates for overnight camp — if he’d ever consider it — based on my own personal experience as a kid. There were two I had personally attended for various retreats and one I had attended as an overnight camper…
[But Ashton wouldn’t even talk about it.]
We grabbed the brochure and began flipping through it. As we saw everything he could do there, our excitement increased. But Ashton wouldn’t even talk about it. “I don’t want to go to camp!” he’d exclaim in a whiny, desperate voice.
“Well, of course we’re not going to force you, honey. But we want you to have an amazing summer and this could be really cool,” we’d answer.
My husband brought the brochure upstairs for them to just flip through during the nighttime reading. For weeks Ashton pushed it aside with the same response, “I don’t want to go to summer camp!” I had resolved that we’d wait yet another year — when he’d be an entering 5th grader — before we even encouraged it again. And for weeks I didn’t mention it.
Then one day I spoke to another friend of mine who has a similar parenting approach that we do. We want our kids to be productive, independent and happy, but getting them there and how you get them there is the challenge… She and I happened to start talking about summer and how neither of us felt ready. (Complete schedule change! Kids home all day while I’m trying to work in between! Constant hunger pangs and snacking!)
So I asked her, “is Christopher going to camp this summer?”
Yes! she said, emphatically. “In fact, he didn’t want to at first, but we sort of pushed him into doing it.”
Intrigued, I said, “how did you do that?” “Well, we just decided age 10 is old enough for him to be independent and not be on his iPAD all day long and do some things outside of his comfort zone that I know he’ll enjoy and that will be good for him.”
By the end of the conversation I had determined I would approach Ashton again about camp, but I would pick a really good time to do it… The deadlines for camp approach quickly and if you don’t get your slot on their calendar and pay your deposit, you can easily miss out on the week you want, and more importantly, on the activities your child would want to participate in. So right after our phone call I signed Ashton up for camp — without telling him! This made me nervous and I searched for the right approach, but I strongly felt he was ready.
[Right after our phone call I signed Ashton up for camp — without telling him!]
Later, I happened to mention to Ashton one of his best friends was going to summer camp. Lance and I left the brochure open on his bed for him to read, conveniently it was on a page with water skiing and wake boarding — activities I knew Ashton would be thrilled to do. I thought it would still take several weeks of planting seeds to get Ashton to want to go on his own, and I still didn’t tell him he was already registered (because of the impending deadline).
To my surprise that night he sent me a note from his room. It said, “Camp if I go with a friend.” I never pushed. I never said this is what you’re going to do and it’ll be great. But I was prepared to do so if I needed to.
[“Camp if I go with a friend.”]
There are many reasons why I wanted Ashton to attend camp this year. For one thing, I remember it fondly from when I attended. Was every day perfect and rosy? Absolutely not! In fact, the first year I went off to camp I went for 2 full weeks, not the one I’m sending Ashton for, and it rained every other day. My mother still has the hysterically funny notes I mailed her (this was before the internet and before email) begging her to come pick me up. In a melodramatic voice, I wrote, “It’s raining here, AGAIN! All it does is rain. I want to come home. Get me out of here!” Then, when she didn’t answer for days, because again, it was snail mail, I wrote a subsequent letter to my grandmother, who in my mind trumped my own mother because she was the GRANDmother… “Maw Maw, did you see the letter I sent to Mom? Tell her to come pick me up!”
[“All it does is rain here! Get me out of here!”]
Needless to say, I survived, and look on that timeframe fondly. I also remember it being a huge growth opportunity because in that short time without my mother to pack my lunch, dress me daily, stand over me to make sure I brushed my teeth, etc., I realized I was way more capable than I had ever imagined. It was a huge confidence boost!
Today is Ashton’s third day at camp, and while there is no communication other than letters back and forth, the camp is doing a great job of posting hundreds of photos daily and keeping us updated on the activities. He appears to be having an absolute blast! And while the house is eerily empty and calm, Luke (5) is enjoying having his parents all to himself for the week, getting to pick out the movie every night and requesting a few of HIS favorite dinners… I realize the Empty Nest Syndrome is only temporary, but I can’t wait for Saturday morning to get here when I can lift my camper into my arms and bring him home!
How To Pick the Right Camp for Your Child
Earlier I mentioned I had predetermined a handful of possible camps for my son, even before we had begun the registration process, and here are a few of the criteria we used to evaluate our final choices:
1. Proximity — There are literally hundreds of camps I could have sent my son to attend this summer, but one of the most important for me was relative proximity. Texas is a huge state! And I wanted our camp to be within a 3-hour drive from our home. Things can happen. They are outdoors — swimming, doing obstacles like ropes courses, woodworking, they’re out in the heat and sun all day long, etc. He could get a number of minor (or even major) injuries during his weeklong experience. If I needed to be there quickly, I could be there in about 2 hours.
2. Christian-Based — While I realize this isn’t on everyone’s list of criteria, it was high on mine. The fond memories I remember as a former camper myself had everything to do with the fellowship and spiritual growth I experienced during those week-long sessions over the summer. It was very important to me that Ashton be made aware of a much larger picture than himself in this world through spiritual education, and our camp has 5 integrated sessions where he gets to experience that. They do this in a subtle way through readings, experience, trust exercises during their activities, and through skits and dramatic education. It’s also a loving environment where he won’t feel alone, and if he begins to feel scared, there is someone there who will comfort him.
3. Budget / Length of Time — Some camps offer more than one week sessions, but we chose our summer camp based on the weekly curriculum that’s custom for them. For one thing, I feel like more than that is too much for a 9-year-old boy, at least my 9-year-old boy. (As a girl camper I did 2 weeks, but that was very long for me.) And the longer your child attends, the more expensive it gets. Camp is expensive! Not only do they having lodging for a full week, plus the activities, but that includes meals and staff. It’s a true investment, but I believe one worth making if you can afford it because again, it’s a growth opportunity to become more independent, confident, meet and get to know new great friends, spiritual training and a larger view of the world outside of his own little bubble.
4. Referral / Trust — As I mentioned, things can happen at camp, sometimes bad things. Children can have allergic reactions, bee stings, get hurt doing sports, get broken bones, or worse. And often having a source you trust already refer to a place they know and trust can be hugely comforting. That was the case with us, too. We had a friend at church who had already gone to this camp and their son — same age as Ashton — was returning this summer. We were able to get them to go at the same time and even request they be bunk mates to ease Ashton’s first-time transition. Additionally, if something does happen, you want to have confidence in their ability to handle the situation well, communicate well and take whatever health and medical precautions needed to protect your camper.
5. The Activities — This ranked 5th on my list of priorities because you want your kid to have fun at camp! This is the very reason why they’re going! And in our case, we liked the differentiating activities Ashton’s camp offered above the other places we could have sent him. Namely, the water sports and “Outdoorsmanship” option because our son is an avid outdoorsman, a total water bug and loves anything to do with water or sports. Among the activities at our camp include Adventure Challenge (Ropes Course), Archery, Boatmanship, Crafts, Arts, Horsemanship, Kayaking, Outdoorsmanship, Riflery, Sports, Swimming, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Wilderness Survival Skills and Woodworking. Each camper gets 4 main activities they will do each day as part of their “curriculum,” but also get exposure to most of the items the camp offers. I cannot imagine a better week to spend my time as a kid!
6. Attention / Staff Ratio — When so many camps offer great programming, you also will often see a large enrollment to cover their costs. But our camp limits each week to just 250 campers — still big, I know — but that also includes 90 staff on site. So the counselor to camper ratio is great, which means my son will get incredible attention during his week when I’m not there to protect, comfort, do all the things I normally do for him each day. This gives me huge piece of mind knowing he’s not going to get “lost” in the crowd.
7. Ease and Ability to Get In — There are a LOT of great summer camps out there, no doubt! But many of them require 6 months or longer to register and be accepted on their long wait lists. And that’s just not realistic for my family when we have baseball half the year and my husband and I each have our own businesses we run. The summertime is the only time in our lives when the schedule is intentionally a little more flexible and I want to keep it that way. We were able to book our camp about 12 weeks out, which was more doable for us. When most people are considering their summer vacations, we’re still wrapping up the school year, doing final tests, and in our case, still wrapping up a full baseball season. Thinking and making a deposit on a camp just wasn’t possible for us any earlier.
8. Philosophy and Fun Factor — The spirituality was very high on my list, but the philosophy of our camp is to pack as much fun and friends into one week as humanly possible. And I truly want this to be the best week in my son’s life. They do a good job to maintaining that balance.
9. Reputation — Sending your baby into someone else’s care for a week — especially people you’ve never met before! — is truly scary! So I believe it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting with the camp experience, and our camp has been around and highly regarded for more than 40 years. That’s a long time to have built some credibility among our church and friendship circles.
10. Repeat?? — The final criteria will come back to Ashton who will tell us whether or not he wants to go back. And if he does, then he will. That’s the true test on whether or not we hit all of our marks.
— Christina 🙂
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Christina Moreland, author of Secrets of the Super Moms, is the Super Mom of a bright, spunky nine-year-old and sweet and sensitive five-year-old. She is passionate about fitness and all sorts of parenting and childcare topics. Her goal with this column is to share fun and interesting information to help other parents create healthy homes. Follow Christina’s Secrets of the Super Moms page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SecretsOfTheSuperMom. You can also follow her on Twitter @supermombook or visit her YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/SecretsOfTheSuperMom.