My mother tried to send me to day camp one year when I was about eight. I rejected this notion and held steadfast to the declaration, “I am not a camp girl.” I didn’t like to swim, change in locker rooms, or play team sports. I had no interest in getting dirty, rallying behind something, or interacting with kids my own age. No one would dare call me a “spirit girl.” Within a week of this lone day camp experience, my mother pulled me out. The next time I approached any discussion surrounding camp was the summer after seventh grade. My best friend signed up for a travel camp. Every day, we went on a trip to an amusement park, to a water park, to a dude ranch, to a baseball game. Additionally, we also went on two overnight trips: to Boston and Washington D.C. Now this was a camp I understood and I promptly advised my parents to sign me up.
Armed with eight years of American life, I adjusted to this camp life quickly. I made friends, sang along to the songs they taught us on the bus (American Pie, Imagine, Joy to the World) and flirted with boys on the overnight trips. I feared I might have started the summer off on the wrong foot when in a “get-to-know-you” game, they asked for me to state your name with an adjective before it which describes you. All my seventh-grade mind could muster was “Gorgeous” and I didn’t have the confidence to be so bold. Instead, I blurted “Gullible Galina,” uncertain even of its meaning. The rest of the summer, the cute diver boy called me ‘Gullible’ and I cringed.
Travel camp turned out to be one of my most memorable “childhood” experiences, leaving me with a glimmer of understanding to what all the camp kids were raving about.
My daughter, age 6, is my polar opposite and a quintessential camp girl. Born with imaginary pompoms to root everyone on, she comes with a natural inclination to learn every song and dance to coordinate with life. Camp t-shirts? Loves them! Spirit week? How loud can she scream? Color war. Go team yellow! She earns those deep water bracelets and special awards with pride. She values the core of what camp promises: friendship, memories, joy, outdoors, creation, nature, and celebrating childhood.
As a parent, I see the abundance of benefits to camp. Camp is time away from your parents without homework. A camp’s ultimate goal is for your children to have FUN and an extraordinary camp will go out of their way to make sure each camper does. Camp delivers lessons outside a typical classroom setting so children can thrive in drama, dance, gymnastics, archery, ceramics or a plethora of life skills beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Camp is about squeezing every molecule of joy out of summer, encapsulating it in a huge yellow smiley face memory, and carrying it with you through the winter months until next year.