Like every other kid growing up, I looked forward to summer with great enthusiasm. It wasn’t just that school was out, but summer was the time I got to go to camp. In my small East Texas hometown, going to camp didn’t mean leaving home for eight weeks. It meant simply spending one glorious week in the woods not far from home with a group of girls my own age, from my hometown. At my camp, there was no swimming pool, no horses, not even a pond in which to fish. My camp had only two cabins, a dining and crafts lodge, and a playground. But it also had magical places where my friends and I could cook over an open fire, sing silly songs, and dream of the day when we would be as old and cool as our teen-aged counselors.
Camp means different things to different people. Some think of swimming in a lake, riding horses, organized competitions for everything from fire-building to kickball, playing capture the flag, or taking long hikes through the woods or canoe trips down a river. But regardless of the specifics, for many adults camp evokes special memories of summers when we were free of pressure, having the time of our lives with friends under the watchful eye of our counselors.
Recent research by the American Camp Association tells us that camp is good for kids, which is no surprise for those of us lucky enough to have attended camp as children. It really doesn’t matter how long the experience, whether all girls, all boys, or coed, nor does location or focus matter. There’s just something special about being in the woods or mountains, cooking s’mores and making new friends.
Camp brings out the spirituality in us. It’s not really about religion, but about recognizing that there must be something greater than all of us, that nature provides a fascinating classroom, and that life at a slower pace can be quite stimulating.
As an adult and volunteer with the American Camp Association, I’ve had the opportunity to visit many camps, to meet camp directors from around the world, and to see first hand the benefits of the camp experience. Some things have changed a great deal since my first camp experience, especially when it comes to the more refined living conditions in many camps and the wide variety of activities. But the core values of camp remain the same, and kids can still do a lot of not just growing up, but maturing in their core beliefs through experiences at camp.
I miss the excitement of my childhood, preparing for the most special week of the summer when I got to go to that small, but wonderful place called camp. I believe in the powerful bond that kids can develop in nature with friends and mentors. I believe in camp.
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