I just returned from two weeks in the woods of northern Minnesota. This was my sixth summer reprising my college job as a camp counselor. The opportunity to be at camp at the same time as my three children has allowed me a unique perspective: I get to witness firsthand the benefits of sending my kids to camp.
I am proud to work at Skogfjorden, the Norwegian language and cultural immersion program that is one of the fourteen Concordia Language Villages. Respekt is the guiding principle; all deltagere (campers) and staff promise to both have and take responsibility for their actions as part of the Skogfjorden promise. But I am willing to bet that most of the following benefits of sending your kids to sleepaway camp apply to pretty much any high quality summer program.
Kids do things at camp that they may never attempt at home. Being outside of their normal social circle allows kids to try new things. Sometimes this is as simple as a picky eater who samples food at camp that he would flat-out refuse at home. My daughter, for example, barely nibbles the kid-friendly items in her lunchbox but she chows down on almost everything she is served at camp. But sometimes I have seen kids do incredible things that they would never dream of doing at home. I remember a girl in my cabin one year whose parents pulled me aside when they dropped her off to brief me on how incredibly shy she was. And she WAS painfully shy. But exactly one week later, I saw her stand up in front of the entire camp and sing a solo a cappella in the talent show. It was so beautiful that I teared up. Her parents saw a video of it on the camp blog and were. Totally. Blown. Away.
The corollary of this is that kids get to explore different aspects of their personalities at camp.
At school, a kid may be labeled as this, that or the other, but they get a chance to start fresh at camp. At camp, most kids just get to be valued for who they are, without having to worry about how they are viewed by their long-term peers. In fact, two of my three kids kind of don’t want their friends to go to camp with them. It is THEIR place and don’t want to cross the streams of their lives.
Camp helps kids learn how to problem solve and make decisions for themselves. One of the things that I have learned from parenting is that kids actually have very little control over their lives. Understandably, that can be frustrating. In a lot of ways, camp helps children feel in control of what happens to them. At Skogfjorden, kids get to choose between activities twice a day, they choose what they will do during free time, choose how much money they will take out of the bank and what they will buy with it, choose to be kjempenorsk and speak only Norwegian all day. I think that these experiences make kids feel competent and independent, which in the end will help them to be better problem-solvers in any new situation.
And sometimes it can lead to brilliance. One summer, I was assigned to work the camp candy store (or kiosk, as we call it at Skogfjorden). In terms of kid priorities, candy is at the very top of the list. Since the store was only open once a day, the lines were looooong. My oldest son showed up one afternoon and placed a massive and complicated order of soda, chocolate, gummies, etc. He had done the math in his head and paid with exact change for each category of item. I flipped out. “What do you think you are doing? You can NOT have all of that candy!” “Mom,” he responded calmly, “it’s not for me.” Turns out he was running a business. For a small but reasonable fee, he would stand in line for you and buy your candy. Understandably, he had quite a customer base. Not only that, but what he bought for himself he would save until the next morning – when everyone else had eaten up all of their own candy and were desperate for more. Then he would sell at with a steep markup. I gave him $20 at the start of camp on Monday. By Friday, he had doubled his money and started a matching fund for a kid in his cabin who didn’t have much money.
Camp forces kids to take a break from their ever-present technology. Everyone talks about how one of the benefits of sleepaway camp is that today’s plugged-in kids are forced to unplug and commune with nature. That’s true, of course, but it doesn’t capture the sheer beauty of some of the things I have seen at camp. I helped a 7-year-old with her camp evaluation last week and the most important thing for her was that she “had seen more animals than she had in a really long time”. This happened on a day that I saw two deer sprint through camp, as well as a woodchuck, a red-headed woodpecker, and a hummingbird, not to mention all the various insects, birds and bees. (We have bears, too, but that just means you have to sing on your way back to the cabin.) I especially love how the girls in my cabin were constantly showing me the caterpillars, inchworms, moths, shells and frogs that they had discovered.
Speaking of frogs, I have to share the beauty of The Night of the Frogs. It had rained hard – torrentially hard – that day and then cleared off. On my way back to my cabin, I encountered my son Simon and 3 of his buddies in the middle of the flooded path, catching frogs in the moonlight. There were frogs EVERYWHERE – big and small. It was like something out of the Ten Commandments. The boys had already caught more than a dozen frogs of all sizes. Somewhere they had found a cardboard box. They showed me the inhabitants of their cardboard box with pride. They had worked out a system for catching the frogs and their cooperation was yielding enormous success. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and remember their young voices raised in laughter and exhilaration.
Kids benefit from relationships with trusted adults who are NOT their parents. At camp, kids have to create new relationships – on their own, without parental guidance or influence. New friends among their peers are important and perhaps what they will remember most about camp. But the relationships that they forge with trusted adults who are NOT their parents is hugely important. While counselors are not parents, they are more than school-year teachers. They are positive role models who have time and energy to listen, talk, and laugh with our kids. They reinforce the messages and values that we parents are trying to instill, but – unlike us sadly lame parents – THEY are inherently cool. Sometimes kids listen better to these non-parental authority figures who are closer to their age. Parenting is a lot of responsibility and I, for one, feel better knowing that my husband and I am not alone in raising our kids.
Camp helps kids figure out who they are. It helps them to grow up. The truth is that putting a kid in the somewhat uncomfortable situation of living with a lot of other people in a small space helps them learn not only about cooperation and teamwork, but how to respect others and negotiate. This helps kids build confidence, courage, independence, resilience and flexibility.
I sent my two sons off to camp today. They have reached the point in their teen years when they don’t especially need – or want – their mom around when they are at camp. But that’s ok with me. I know that they are in one of the most safe and supportive environments that will ever be in and that they will come home to me the better for it.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Jennifer Prestholdt.
Do your kids go to any sort of summer camp?
As a wife of one and a mom of four, it seems like I am always learning and discovering! I know I am not alone. Let’s just admit it: The world is a big place, life is a lesson, and children can be the best teachers. Normally my series, Life Lessons with Mexico Mom, is hosted on Los Gringos Locos, but today I am posting here on World Moms Blog.
Here are my insights and experiences as a Mexico Mom after we climbed Parícutin volcano in Southern Mexico. I don’t have the images edited yet or I would share! Stay tuned and watch for them on my blog. In the meantime enjoy our crazy experience. (more…)
Last week I took my daughter to a local book store to spend a gift card she received for her birthday. My daughter loves books and had a hard time deciding what she wanted most, to purchase the final books in one of her existing collections or get something totally new.
While I was in a different section, my daughter engaged the children’s department manager in a book discussion. Evidently sharing with the woman all of her latest good-reads, which included much of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, all of the Harry Potters, and several non-fictions like I Am Malala and A Long Walk to Water.
When I arrived back on the scene, the woman commended me for raising such a voracious reader and said she was amazed that my daughter went to public school, being convinced that only private schools could produce such a 3rd grade equivalent.
I didn’t know if I should be flattered or offended.
The woman, who was in her late 50’s, was a retired educator herself and clearly had a deep passion for books and strong opinions about appropriate reading levels. She impressed upon me that many of my daughter’s book choices were advanced for her age and encouraged me to consider steering her away from further indulgences.
This sentiment concerned me because, until recently, I had kept close tabs on what my children were reading and most of the advanced books were ones we read together. But lately, my daughter had been zooming ahead of me, finding pockets of reading time at school and also before lights out at night.
Admitedly, I hadn’t read any of the Percy Jackson books. Knowing that the books had been made in to PG-13 movies did have me somewhat concerned about content but was I really hearing this book specialist right? Was she really trying to stymie my child’s enthusiasm for reading by directing her choices?
The woman was trying to point out that my daughter is only a third grader once and there were plenty of sweet, age-appropriate books out there for her to indulge in. Didn’t I want to save these 6th, 7th and 8th grade books for later?
I really had to think about this.
After all aren’t I always trying to slow my daughter’s maturity? Aren’t I the same mother that won’t let her watch teen television shows because they’re too sassy and full of content ahead of her age? Could books be presenting the same issue?
I’ve grappled with this for the better part of 7 days now. What are the demigods in Percy Jackson doing up there at Camp Half Blood? Aside from the reality of Malala Yousafzai getting shot point blank by the Taliban, what fictional characters might be playing out scandalous scenes in my daughter’s young mind from The Secret Benedict Society?
Does it make me a less engaged parent if I don’t keep my finger on the pulse of my childrens’ literary lives? Do I need to give up my own sacred reading time to be sure I’m on topic with my kids?
A writer friend of mine told me once that the difference between books and movies was that movies spoon feed us all of the images and visuals in a story whereas books let our imaginations fill in the scenery.
When kids read books with ideas or content beyond their experience levels, their minds fill in the pictures age appropriately.
I saw this first hand when My daughter read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in first grade without having bad dreams but when she saw the movie in second grade, she had nightmares about the final images of Voldemort for months.
I love my daughter passion for reading and I’m proud of her advanced and eclectic book selections but now there’s a little nagging voice whispering in my ear every time she picks up a new and unfamiliar novel.
And in the end, instead of helping us find a few new, good books, I think the well-intentioned saleswoman may have done more harm than good.
Where do you stand with letting your children read ahead of their age level? Do you think this saleswoman had a point?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog from our senior editor and mom to two, Kyla P’an.
The image used in this post is credited to the author.
They call me “MZ”
Never in a million years, did i ever think that i would be in a relationship that meant loving and embracing a child that was not my own, as my own. Not that i felt anything against the idea, its just something i never thought of or considered. But that is just how you see it. You have ideas and make plans and then Life happens.
Where did the term ‘step-children’ come from? Why is there a step?
For about four years, my ‘step’ children and I have been in each others lives. It seems like an easy enough relationship whereby i know my boundaries, in manner of not attempting to be their mother, rather a loving figure in their lives. It was a rather difficult relationship to define at first, because well i am not really ‘Auntie’, but yes ‘Dad’s Companion’ and also their sister’s mother.
Eventually they settled for an abbreviation, which i think is pretty cool, MZ they call , from “Mama Zuri.” Sort of like a superhero type? Or close? It feels like it.
And so on and on it goes – this journey of ours. We sometimes have growing pains. It cannot be easy to have someone around who they did not plan for. And this someone playing a role that they did not expect to see me play. But i am thankful and blessed in many ways. It is easy, when they are good kids. There is an occasional discomfort but we paddle through. Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. But we work at it and it works out. I do not ask for much, other than respect for themselves and others and self discipline. I guess those are simple standards for children everywhere.
The notion of the evil step mother that is perpetrated in history never helps. So there is hesitation in getting close.
But I am confident that the less I think about it and the more love I give, we will get to where we are meant to be, which is in a space of comfort, ease, trust and love.
Do you have any step-children? How is your relationship with them? Any tips to share with the world?
This is an original post by Nancy Sumari from Tanzania. You can find more of her writing at Mama Zuri.
Photo credit to the author.
In a little over four months, my book will be out in the public in paperback and electronic forms. It gives me chills to think about this fact.
It is a lifelong dream to publish a book, and I’m excited to accomplish this goal before I turn 40. (I’ll even have a few months to spare!) While I am a co-author in the book The Mother of All Meltdowns, this will be my first solo book. It will also be my first traditionally published book.
I honestly don’t remember when I initially came up with the idea for Simple Giving. Let’s just say it was a few years back. I know that I wanted to take what I was writing about philanthropy on my blog, another jennifer, and expand on it. I know I felt a constant pull to give more and to share all the stories I was finding through the Philanthropy Friday series on my blog in a bigger way. I know I found a community of world changers that spanned the globe who inspired me to push myself further.
I finally got the nerve to ask my then father-in-law and seasoned literary agent if he thought I should pursue my idea. He not only liked the idea, he offered to represent me.
You never know what will happen with your goals and dreams if you don’t pursue them.
It took me a long time to finish my proposal, never mind the actual writing of the book. When you work on something so close to you personally, fear can often rear its ugly head and get in the way of your progress. Other priorities – like work that actually pays, writing, parenting and attempting to have a social life – push the big scary stuff to the back burner. I wrote a post back in March of 2013 about fear and writing.
There were a couple of times that I just had to get away and write without distraction. I was fortunate enough to have my parents take my kids for days at a time so I could retreat from the world and immerse myself in my book. Those were the times I got the most research and organizations done, along with some much needed free writing.
And then I came to the realization that my marriage was ending. After one Sunday evening conversation, reality set in. I woke up the next morning feeling a shell-shocked. I remember getting my boys off to school and sitting down at the desk in my home office. I started the computer and stared at the screen wondering what I would do next. A million things were running through my head.
I opened my email and there, waiting for me in my inbox, was a draft contract from my publisher. I had known it would be coming for a few weeks, but the contracts department was backed up. It came at a time when I needed the reassurance that everything was going to be alright. Just a few weeks later I traveled to Nicaragua with WaterAid America. I was nervous about leaving my kids so soon after telling them that their father and I were separating, but that trip came at a time when I needed to get away and get back to basics.
While I can’t say that everything went as planned in the writing of this book, I can say that it all worked out for the best. Simple Giving is much better because of the extra time it took and the experiences I had along the way. In fact, the story that brings the entire book together is about a wonderful community I joined after divorce – that also happens to be my gym – that allowed me to bring my passion for global issues into an outdoor water-themed workout based on my experience in Nicaragua for World Water Day in Maine.
Maybe there was a plan after all.
Simple Giving is available for pre-sale on Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million and Indiebound.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Jennifer Iacovelli, of anotherjennifer and author of Simple Giving.
Is there a dream that you have but are afraid to pursue?