When I was 12, I watched the movie The Parent Trap and immediately begged my parents to send me away to summer camp. I imagined it as a magical place where I would enjoy newfound freedom, play late-night pranks and create lifelong friendships. But when my parents dropped me off in the dusty parking lot of Camp-Y-on-the-Ottawa, I was secretly terrified I had made a mistake. My stomach was in knots as I kissed my parents goodbye and watched them drive away. Little did I know that summer camp would be a life-changing experience.
My first summer as a camper was spent canoeing, kayaking and swimming along the Ottawa River shoreline with other girls my age. Our camp counsellors created a series of challenges for us in order to encourage teamwork and cooperation. At night, we slept in rustic cabins and wrote our names in black permanent marker on the wooden bunk beds. A group flag-raising ceremony took place every morning, grace was sung before each meal and our long summer days wrapped up with an evening program such as a talent show or campfire sing-along.
Summer camp allowed me to do things I otherwise would never have done in life, such as heading out on a two-week canoe trip away from camp and into the wilderness. We portaged our canoes from lake to lake, paddled past a family of black bears and learned to cook our meals over an open fire. I began to overcome some of my biggest fears, and my confidence soared. At the beginning of the summer, I wouldn’t go near the rock-climbing wall, but by the end of the session I had transformed into a fearless adventurer who scaled the wall blindfolded.
Camp Davern director Vanessa Spratt says one of the main benefits of her all-girls residential summer program is that campers learn something about themselves.
“We like them to surprise themselves, whether by climbing higher on one of our high ropes elements … learning a new stroke in their canoe lessons or understanding that they are very good at making friends and comforting others; there is always something new to learn about yourself at camp, regardless of your age.”
Spratt says parents can see the powerful impact summer camp has had on their children.
“Often it is a new confidence parents see in their daughter [after] returning from camp. Another parent might notice that a child who was struggling socially is now flourishing.”
Summer camp is more than s’mores and sing-alongs. It’s a unique experience because it brings kids from diverse neighbourhoods together to live, learn and play in a natural setting. Spratt says it’s important for campers to develop a love for the natural world.
“We stress an electronic-free site for all our campers. We are aiming for genuine connections being created not only between themselves and others at camp but with the environment around them. Learning to have an appreciation for the outdoors and to enjoy being outside at an early age is a wonderful way for our camp to encourage healthy and thoughtful choices.”
According to the Canadian Camping Association, campers acquire an appreciation and respect for nature that remains for a lifetime.
“Campers are encouraged to be co-operative, caring, tolerant and respectful— qualities which benefit them beyond camp.”
Many of the skills I learned at summer camp have been called upon later in my life. Summer camp improved my self-esteem, leadership skills and environmental awareness. I continued to return to summer camp for years, eventually graduating to camp employee. After high school, I went away to college, but returned home every summer to work as a lifeguard, counsellor and camp director at different camps throughout the Ottawa area.
Spring is here, but summer is just around the corner and many parents are beginning to plan for summer camps and other options to keep their kids busy. Camps Canada owner Matt Barr says there are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a camp for your child.
“The best way to determine if a particular camp is right for you is to ask a lot of questions. Camp directors are used to answering questions about every detail of camp. If you don’t get the answers you are looking for, keep searching.”
Camp could be one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of your kids’ lives. For more information on local summer camps go to www.ymcaywca.ca, www.ottawacamps.com or www.ontariocampsassociation.ca