A few years ago, I wrote about my experience at summer camp. My purpose was to explain how I discovered that it has so many additional benefits, which I have come to understand as an adult.
Every summer I am reminded of these lessons learned at camp, and I am even more determined and convinced that overnight summer camps have more benefits than we can imagine.
I first attended Camp Massapoag, a YMCA
camp, and then transitioned to a hockey camp. Because I am an avid hockey player
, you would think that I would have fond memories of being with other hockey players for two weeks. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I played hockey every week throughout the year. The last thing I wanted to do was to play two more weeks of hockey morning and night.
Camp Massapoag was a relief, a mindful retreat, and an immersion into a community in which unfamiliar peers became close friends in a short amount of time. It was a community where everyone came from different backgrounds and had different interests. We learned about getting along with others, having responsibilities, being in nature
and living in one small cabin without electricity. My olfactory senses will never forget the smells that are triggered every summer.
We hiked every day, breathed clean air, learned how to set up tents in the middle of the woods, started our own campfires, cooked together, sang songs, and listened to stories. We missed our family and friends, but that was just a part of the experience. We were always "checked in" to our surroundings and the people we were with. We couldn't "check out" and escape into the Internet world. We were practicing mindfulness in a natural setting, and we didn't even know it.
No social cliques were tolerated; everyone had to interact and be together. No one was alone or apart from the group. We sat at a table and ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, and we talked and laughed. We woke up together, walked to reveille together, and cleaned up together. We identified ourselves as "Cabin 1A"- not as individuals. We learned that you must get along with your cabin mates. We learned about spirit, values, and being a team.
At the time of this writing, my daughter is away at camp. She attends Camp Jewell in Colebrook, Connecticut for two weeks every summer. She started going when she was 9 years old. She is now 14, and the excitement of returning to camp every year is something I can't explain; you just have to see it and experience it. When I mention to friends that she is away at camp, they respond, "Is it a soccer camp?" as my daughter is an avid soccer player. Absolutely not! It is just a "regular" camp!
My sister Michele, who is 40 years old and has Down syndrome, is also away at camp this week. She started going away to Camp Calumet in New Hampshire when she was around 12 years old. She attended camp every summer for almost 20 years. Camp Calumet has a session specifically designed for children and adults with special needs. After a short hiatus, she wanted to go back during her vacation this year, as many of her friends still attend. When I asked her why she wanted to go back, she said, "I miss the campfires!" I think there is an element that she can
't put into words that she misses, but it has certainly been a meaningful experience for her.
When my sister had the opportunity to live in a group-home community, she was prepared to live away from home. This wasn't going to be the first time she was leaving home for an extended amount of time; she had practiced leaving home for 20 years, and she had no anxiety about moving out. Conversely
, my mother was extremely nervous and couldn't sleep the first night. Later that evening, one of the group-home parents called her and said, "Edie, I know the first night is the most difficult for a parent, so I just want to give you an update as I stopped by the house tonight. Michele is on the couch with her feet up with a bowl of popcorn on her lap watching a movie with everyone. I think she is going to be just fine!" Of course, there were many skills she needed to continue to learn, but being away from home was something we did not have to worry about.
Every summer, I get a strong desire to open a camp for LABBB
students. If we could give them this experience, it would be a life skill that would serve them beyond the classroom
. I thought about asking Camp Massapoag management
if we could use their cabins for a few weeks or integrate into an existing camp where our students could have the same experiences I am speaking about.
This would not be a technology, sports, science, or academic camp of any kind. This would just be camp - a traditional one like Camp Massapoag, Jewell, or Calumet. Students would spend time with the camp community in the woods, at the lake, around the campfire, hiking, and being in tune with nature. This is extremely healthy for the mind and body. We are losing these opportunities because our kids are more interested in Pokemon Go or in spending their time on the couch with their electronic device
For a parent who is thinking about housing for their son or daughter, you can start preparing now. When you approach the time when they are going to be living on their own, you will have had many years of practice. Giving your son or daughter the opportunity to be away from home at a young age will help them transition more easily when they move into a group living situation. You also need to be mindful that the skill that is most important to learn in order to be successful in a group home is the ability to get along! This is very similar to the world of work. If you can't get along with your coworkers, or you do not have the social skills to connect, then it is not going to work out no matter how good your technical skills are.
Many children never have the opportunity to go on a mindful retreat into the woods. I believe this should be a life skill that everyone experiences. If we prepare now and give them opportunities to live independently at a young age, they will have a better chance of being more independent in the future.