Sending children to summer camp does more than keep them entertained for the season – here are 10 ways it prepares them for the transition to collegiate life.
At age 7, I went to day summer camp and by 10 I began going to sleepaway camp. Summer after summer, I yearned for the end of school with excitement, though always with trepidation and a dash of worry as well. But the minute I opened the car door, or the bus pulled up to my camp I was at home, and that feeling never waned. Eight years after my first sleepaway camp experience, I headed off to college and that same mixture of emotions came along for the ride. Drawing on my summer camp experience, I was happy to discover, made the transition easier. Remembering the fun that superseded the fear, the compassion that outranked the chaos, and the learning that leveled the playing field helped more than any college preparatory book I could have read or any “what to know before you go to college” podcast I could have listened to (if those had existed at the time, of course !) What my camp friends and I learned stayed with us, transferred to others, and wove itself into the fabric of our being. As a camper and counselor, camp gave the informal credit I needed to prepare for college. Here at 10 things I learned at camp that helped with the transition.
Learn to accept change
This is probably the most significant lesson from camp that translates to college and then to life. Learning the only things we have control over are our attitudes, outlook, and responses is not an easy feat. Our cabins were decided before we arrived, and sometimes our friends weren’t with us or perhaps new friends left before the summer’s end. Counselors shifted each season and the new ones had very different personalities than our previous leaders. We could find these changes, be angry when they happened, and let it ruin our camp experience, or we could find a way to accept the change, experience the new and learn and grow. In college, friendships, roommates, and even majors change. Dealing with change isn’t easy but it’s fantastically necessary. As we progress in years, the changes we deal with get more difficult so our ability to accept what we can’t change must grow – and camp starts that process
Be flexible and go with the flow
You go to canteen and it’s out of Strawberry Shortcakes that day. The cabin night you were waiting for is rained out, so now your evening activity in indoors in the lodge. These things happen. Summer Camp teaches us to go with the flow. Our tongues turning blue from a new favorite popsicle, wearing pyjamas to evening program instead of wearing layers to the beach, and empathizing with a friend while focusing on having fun with new ones for the duration of camp. That flexibility is necessary in the college stage and beyond. Sometimes our choices are taken away, sometimes the aboard program is unavailable and sometimes we can’t get into that last class needed to complete our major until the following semester. Camp teaches us to let go; that the more relaxed we can be, the easier the shifts will become; and that the more flexible we are, the better it is for our health and well-being.
Embrace and learn from diversity
At some point in every camp experience, we meet people who are different from us. Showing interest in those differences makes us better people and learning from those differences widens our comfort zones and broadens our minds. Cabin and unit mates come from many backgrounds and all bring somethings different to the table. As the number of people with whom we interact increases, the amount of diversity we encounter grows. We meet people on day one of camp, and by day three we feel as if we’ve know them forever. Summer Camp facilitates meeting new people, lessens the fear in that meeting, and manages to make connecting with strangers more amazing than scary. Having that confidence in making new friends makes it much easier to do the same at freshman orientation. At camp and at school, we spend time with people and we learn their desires and struggles, likes and dislikes and upbringing and dream of what’s to come. Camp and college provide an opportunity to make those strangers become fast friends, take notice of and embrace the differences, and learn more about the world around us.
Don’t be afraid to be Yourself
We all have strengthes and weaknesses, successes and failures, likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations, and thoughts that bring us utter peace. If all of those where the same for our bunkmates, camp would be boring. I loved swimming and arts and crafts. One of my best friends could spend her entire day at the farm, while the other two practically lived at the barn with the horses. There were those who loved the talent show, while others shied away from the spotlight. There were those who were leaders and other who were not. All of us have a safe place to grow at camp. University campuses and courses widen that playing field too, but those of us who went to camp learned at an early age that we could be ourselves and be proud of who we are. It’s those lessons we reach for in the dorm room during moments that are coupled with the fear at we might not be enough.
Everyone gets homesick
Perhaps it happened after you read a letter or e-mail from home. Perhaps is happened after visiting days. Perhaps is happened after a bad dream, or when you fell off a horse, got your first tick, or had that first bellyache at camp. At the one point or another, all of us had twinges of homesickness. But at the camp there is often a friendly shoulder, and ear to lend, or open arms for a hug that lessened the homesickness and reminded us we could get through. Homesickness happens at college, too, but at camp we learned there’s another side, another day, and always someone to help, whether it’s your roommates, a friend, a professor or an advisor. And sometimes we’re even better equipped to handle homesickness in college because we remember what it felt like at camp and how we overcame it. Feeling homesick happens to the most popular kids, the best athlete and everyone in between. Homesickness is real, but it’s manageable. I learned that lesson at camp.
Respect yourself and others
Summer camp provides us freedom we might not be used to while encouraging us to make good choices, take care of ourselves, and use good judgment. These lessons continue after we leave the grounds in August. Summer camp discourages bullying, teaches us to speak up for fellow campers and ourselves, and reminds us that although we’re away from home and school our character still counts and our actions have consequences. College life comes with privileges of freedoms, new people and new attitudes, and many of the same choices as camp. Remembering the advice of camp counselors from our youth who constantly reminded us to respect ourselves stays with us and often pops up in critical moments when we have difficult choices to make.
Share your skills and your stuff
Jill always brought the coolest clothes and stuff to camp. No one knew more about all things agricultural than Erin. Mr Bill could fix everything, and his wife made the best ices in the world (well according to us). Carolyn showed us how to make a one-match fire, and Maryanne introduced us to our favorite crumb cake recipe. Some people shared stuff, some shared knowledge, and other shared experiences and it all mattered. Those who had something to share felt good knowing they were able to help someone else. Those who benefited from the generosity felt a connection, a boost in positivity, and often a desire to continue to pay it forward. College is much the same. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a pizza, lending out a sweatshirt, copying class notes for a sick friend, or explaining a statistic problem a 3am to your stressed-out roommate. At the camp we borrowed clothes, lent encouragement and shared our knowledge. It was never about who had or knew the most or the best of anything: it was about those with the biggest hearts, the kindest ears, and the ability to be there. It mattered then, and it will continue to matter throughout college and the years thereafter.
Everyone has something to teach and to learn
Trish the nurse taught me to safely remove a tick. Mr Bill showed me how to chop down a tree. Laura taught us to sing our heart out, Millie taught us to cook, Adrienne showed us how to make our well-worn beaded camp bracelet, and I stayed late studying lifeguarding with Jackie. We all pitched in and we all offered up what we knew. But it was more than just tangible things, Krista taught me to deal with change, campmates taught me the magic of friendship, and hundreds of counselors taught me kindness, courage, resilience and perseverance. College was no different. We learn from our professor, our advisors, our friend, our surroundings, and often locals and strangers. Having an open mind, acknowledging that lessons come in all forms, having willingness to share what we know and showcasing the ability to listen and share. Camp introduced us to these lessons, and for that we are forever grateful.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
The road from girls’ to boys’ camp was covered by the tree canopy and lined with shrubbery. At night, there were parts of the path where you could barely see the glow of the stars. Whenever we had events at boys’ camp, fear of that dark set in. Erin was always there with a hand to lend. If she walked in the middle of the road, anyone whose arms or hands were intertwined with hers was safe from the brush and the creatures of the night. In college, I never would have gotten through without the help of my science, and math minded friends. When the methods were confusing and laden with frustration, those friends stepped in to lend a hand. Camp taught us to not be afraid to ask for help, whether we needed a hug when we were sad, a boost to reach the top of the rope, a spot with that back-handspring, a buddy for swimming or a friend with whom to walk alone. Later in life, we were filled with the knowledge that asking for help only made us stronger, and we were often prepared to lend a hand when asked.
Face your fears
Nature’s creepy crawlies, their webs in all sorts of knobby corners at camp, and our bathrooms outside. Then there was the swim test on the first day of the season. Summer camps taught us the need to face our fears in order to conquer them, to not get swallowed up by those emotions, and to always offer to help others face their own fears. As our world grows, often so do our fears. College finds us in new spaces, with new people and new experiences. Each time we try to push past that comfort zone, there’s fear. Camp reminds us that those fears (whether failure or spiders) are normal, don’t make us any “less” and are conquerable. Jackie got back on the horse after she was thrown off. Jill got back in a canoe after she busted her foot, and I jumped off the biggest rock I’ve ever seen. We knew the future was full of unknowns, failures were bound to happen, obstacles would most certainly pop up, but we also knew all those things we had to overcome were manageable.
Stacey Ebert is a camper at heart who has spent more than 25 years in the camping and education industries in New York as a teacher, club advisor, counselor and aquatics director. She is a published writer, blogger, event planner, volunteer manager, and educator always in search of joy. She loves travel, spending time outside, and is an avid yogi. She has visited more than 50 of the world’s countries and met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New-Zealand. Check out her blog at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com