Tag Archives: kids unplugged

Three Important Life Lessons I Learned at Summer Camp

In the summer of 1984, I turned nine. Finally, I was old enough to attend resident camp in the Wisconsin wilderness. For months I had been looking forward to the freedom of time away – the joys of spending my days canoeing, swimming, making crafts, and hiking in the woods, far removed from my urban landscape and typical routine.

The reality of summer camp was even better than I could have imagined. That first year, I lived with seven other girls in a rustic A-frame cabin draped with heavy canvas walls that smelled of mildew and pine needles. My bed was a thin mattress placed on top of a wooden board, where I carefully spread out my cozy sleeping bag that felt like a hug from home. A flowing mosquito net covered my bunk to protect me from things that bite in the night. At the far end of the room, I had a small cubbyhole to store my belongings, and a single nail to hang my rain poncho, swim suit and towel. My God! They were the worst living conditions I had ever experienced – and I relished every moment.

At camp I quickly learned that “the rules” were a framework for establishing order. It was up to me to choose my attitude, participate fully in the community, make good decisions, and accept the consequences of my actions. My counselor served as a guide on my journey, but the success of the camp environment truly rested on the shoulders of each young woman. At a very young age, we were entrusted with building a positive and supportive atmosphere. And overwhelmingly, we rose to the occasion. In a parentless world, we learned how to navigate conflict, manage abundant free time, and thrive without gadgets and gizmos.

Summer camp taught me many important lessons, but the three that have had the most profound and lasting impact on my life are these:

1.) Quiet moments can breed boredom or creativity. Choose creativity. 

Summer camp was a great mixture of planned activities and “downtime”. During my very first day, those quiet hours felt excruciating. I wanted to be  meeting new friends and participating in one activity after the next…I wanted to be “doing”. Funny thing, by day two, after spending hours surrounded by 100 other girls, I ached for the quiet times. It was up to me to decide how I would spend those moments….would I be bored or could I entertain myself? On most days, I would find a shady area beneath a pine tree where I would write stories in my journal or pen letters home. The solitude birthed my love of writing. And when you find a passion, you are never bored again.

2.) From uncertainty comes courage.

Though I was excited to attend camp, there was some apprehension about the experience. Would I make friends? Would the other girls like me? Would I get homesick? When my parents dropped me at the camp gates with my duffel bag in tow, I had to push away that self-doubt and make the most of my new reality. Today, I carry the confidence of that nine-year-old girl who thrived in the unknown wilderness and made friends with children from all walks of life. Because of camp, I know that most of the time, fear is a mental state that can be overcome when I confront that which frightens me.

3.) The world is mine to explore.

In the summer of 1984, I was a young girl who longed for more independence and adventure. Every path was new and waiting to be traveled. The experience made me incredibly curious about the world around me.

Fifteen summers later, I was on a plane headed to a new continent to live and study abroad. There I was, traveling to a foreign land where I didn’t know a soul, didn’t speak the language, and had no idea what was waiting for me. Just a girl and her duffel bag. However, that sense of being alone in a strange place was nothing new. Camp had not only prepared me to make the most of the unknown – it had motivated me to seek it out.

This time of year, I am always excited to see children heading off to camp with their pillows and sleeping bags tucked under their arms. In this author’s opinion, there has never been a more important time for summer camp. The experience helps kids step away from the constant noise and stimuli that surrounds them so they may develop self-sufficiency, confidence, and creativity – tools that will serve them well throughout life.

 

 

Simple Vacations Are Rewarding, Too (no matter what your Instagram feed tries to tell you)

We’ve just returned from our spring break in New England. Over the past week we wound our way from Kennebunkport to Portland, Maine and then on to Boston, Massachusetts. Our vacation was laid back and simple, filled with fresh sea food, trips to the ocean, and long walks. This journey was also educational as my daughter learned about the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolution, and the founding principles of the United States. #parentingwin

Over spring break, I saw many of my friends posting photos of their adventures – from Mexico, to Florida, to Italy – families were taking this time to get away, explore, and unwind. Travel is a wonderful way to bond as a family, gain an appreciation for the world around us, and learn about different cultures. In an increasingly global society, travel prepares us to work with colleagues, customers, and collaborators from other lands. And as Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

However, to reap the rewards of travel, you don’t have to take an elaborate or expensive vacation. Jet setting families look pretty on Instagram, but most of us don’t have the funds or the time to set off on an around-the-world tour. In fact, a “staycation” or short trip can give you the same benefits. So friends, don’t fret about keeping up with the Joneses. Create a special experience that works for your family. This is something I know a thing or two about!

When I was a kid, my family couldn’t afford many vacations…we usually had one getaway during the summer. My parents would cram sleeping bags, pillows, drawing pads and a box full or markers, food, and games into our 1980s station wagon and we’d drive three hours to a placid lake in northern Wisconsin. There we would pitch a tent, cook our meals over an open flame, and pee in the woods. It was simple and perfect. At night we’d lay near the empty country road that ran along our property and watch stars shoot across the pitch black sky. We’d tell ghost stories with flashlights under our chins while munching on Jiffy Pop.

At the lake, my brother and I lived in our swim suits and always smelled like a mixture of Coppertone, Off!, and algae. There were no cell phones, no flush toilets, no showers, and we were in heaven. Those rustic, “roughing it moments” – as my dad referred to them – are some of the best memories of my childhood.

Tent camping taught us to appreciate nature. My dad would take us on hikes through pine forests in search of deer tracks. We would catch grasshoppers and learn how to tell time by watching the sun. On the shores of the lake, we would find snails and my mom would tell us about the escargot served in France. My brother and I would wrinkle our noses.

Those long summer days were filled with teaching moments. It was where I learned about the glaciers that once covered Wisconsin and the importance of freshwater lakes. We learned about the logging industry in our state and toured paper mills. And usually one night during our stay, we would venture into a nearby town to partake in a Wisconsin fish fry. If we ever complained about being bored, my parents would hand us the drawing pads and markers and tell us to make art.

Next time you’re planning a trip, think about something simple and close to home. Head to a museum, a State Park, or go camping in the woods. Encourage your children to put down the electronic devises and spend time with their imaginations. Help them expand their understanding of the world through fun, hands-on learning.

Happy traveling! -Mara