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My daughter happily runs down the driveway to get onto the van and head off to day camp.  She spends the day outside, swimming, hiking, riding horses and getting dirty.  When she comes home she is nearly unrecognizable under the layer of dirt, sunscreen and sweat.  But man oh man is she happy!

Every summer, it’s always the big question for parents, “What is your child doing this summer?” For many of the kids (and parents) that answer involves some sort of enrichment or academic-based program.  Spending summer days working on sharpening math and reading skills to “get ready” for the upcoming school year.  Now, don’t get me wrong, my daughter is also responsible for doing daily reading and some other learning activities to keep her mind active, especially on non-camp days.  But I would not trade her summer camp experience for anything.

When I first went to the open house for summer camp, the camp director spoke with enthusiasm and passion about the skills that would addressed at camp.  These skills included grit, resilience, perseverance, adaptability, team-work, and supported risk-taking.  Listening to the camp director talk, I was sold.  While reading, writing and math skills are vitally important; in this mama’s opinion, so are these “other skills”, most of which cannot be taught in a classroom.

Back to my hot and dusty camper…Last summer, she took the initial swim test and did not pass.  She could not earn her first badge for swimming without opening her eyes under water performing a few water safety tasks.  My daughter was a fairly proficient swimmer, but not without her goggles.  In order to earn the badge, she had to leave her goggles off and complete the task by opening her eyes underwater.   As a mom, it was tough to watch her struggle through the disappointment of not earning that badge day after day.  For almost two weeks, she would get off the camp bus, walk up the driveway to tell me about camp, and report that she had not earned her swim badge. She was frustrated. I wanted nothing more than to call the camp and make it happen for her, but I resisted the urge. What would that teach her?

Then, one particularly hot and dusty afternoon, when the bus pulled up to my driveway, my daughter bounced off the bus, bursting. She had done it.  She stuck with it and after many failed attempts, she had finally earned that swim badge.  We proudly pinned that badge to the center of her camp pennant.  She persevered and she was triumphant!

My little camper also has an irrational fear of animals. Dogs, cats, squirrels, you name it, she’s afraid of it. Going on a play date, or even visiting with my mother-in-law, can prove to be quite tricky, because of the animal situations.  For that matter, even walking down the road can cause her to freeze with fear. Well, at summer camp, one of the main daily activities is horses.  The campers have to interact with horses. They learn how to care for the animals, how to saddle them up, and then how to safely mount and ride them.  For my daughter (the one who is afraid of dogs, cats and squirrels) I knew this was going to be a tough one. I did not envy the camp counselor’s job. Well, by the end of the first week at camp, my daughter was up in the saddle of a horse, riding with the assistance of a camp counselor. When I heard her tell me this as she was beaming with pride, I felt tears stinging my eyes. Who was this girl, and when did she learn how to take a supported risk?  Priceless life lessons learned!

Watching your child struggle is not easy. But watching them try and fail, then dig deep and try again, that right there is priceless. The lessons learned at summer camp are invaluable. I wouldn’t trade those hot and dusty days for anything. My washing machine may have to run a few extra loads of laundry, and I may have to buy some extra soap to wash off all the mud, but that is a small price to pay for the life-long skills learned at camp.

I hope you are having a beautiful summer. Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear from you.

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