By Kate Lemay
Summer camp remains one of the few places where today’s often overscheduled and over protected children have to rough it, stretch their boundaries, and conquer the challenges of the great-outdoors all without the guidance of their parents.
As a mom and a 20-year camp professional, I believe that camp is a critical piece of childhood development — just as essential to a child’s growth and learning as reading, writing and arithmetic. Summer camp is about so much more than marshmallows, bug juice and fun. It’s a place where there are no amenities, no electricity and no technology. Youth are launched into a community setting without screens to use as shields. Here they are completely unplugged and everyone is in the same boat, sometimes quite literally.
At camp, kids have to make eye-contact, smile, introduce themselves, and make friends and decisions on their own. They get a taste of adult life as they navigate the challenges of sharing a bunk or a tent. They are encouraged to try new foods and recreational activities while experiencing the most earnest meaning of down time in the middle of the woods.
Camp is also a great melting pot. If you were to take a tour of any YMCA overnight camp you’d find that each cabin is a beautiful cross section of people from many backgrounds. This is by design to help teach acceptance and flexibility. Not everyone is like you — and that’s good.
Now more than ever the world needs its future generations to be tolerant of each other’s views, ideologies, and beliefs. Summer camp is an opportunity for children to build character and to learn what being a part of a real community is all about.
Camp also teaches children without tests, grades or the stress and competition to strive for perfection. Unlike school, it’s ok to make mistakes at summer camp. How else will you learn? Our counselors encourage leadership at every turn. You can be in charge at 12-years-old, lead a group, make a fire or pitch a tent. The difference in a child’s self-esteem, confidence and his or her ability to adapt to unfamiliar situations after just a week at camp is an amazing transformation to witness. The parents see it too – in their children’s faces, demeanor and the way they carry themselves when they return home.
Summer camp is just as beneficial for parents, not only giving them well-deserved time for themselves, but also helping them to let go, trust, and respect their children’s boundaries. Being “kidsick” is just a common (or even more so) as being homesick. It’s also healthy. But it’s just as healthy to untuck your children from your wing and allow them to figure out their passions and who they are independent of you. Giving them practice to stand on their own two feet is giving them the gift of independence.
Many organizations, like the YMCA of Greater Boston, provide scholarships and financial assistance to families who would like to give their child a summer camp experience but don’t have the resources to do so. We believe camp is for every child regardless of income.
We’ll save you a seat by the fire.
Kate Lemay is the executive director of overnight camps for the YMCA of Greater Boston, including the East Boston Y, and a New Hampshire resident. She’s is a wife, mother of two young boys, and an Artist of “Conscious Evolution” with a global following.