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Lest we forget - one mother's view on the importance of camp.

There I was, surrounded by piles of dirty laundry. Several things, especially the towels, were scarred with the little black spots that are mildew's calling card. We had been unpacking the foot-lockers all morning and still had 101 miscellaneous, but essential items that needed homes for the winter. How many times did I hear, "Mom, NO - you can't throw that away!" How silly of me not to know that the damp, folded square of paper, when opened, would yield my oldest daughter's best riflery target of the summer. I realized again that I must be careful with these treasures saved from a whole season's worth of experiences.

Why do we participate in this yearly ritual? Talk of camp spreads throughout the year, but the intensity builds to a crescendo in May. The lists of "Things I Need for Camp" elicited from my girls can fill volumes. Naturally, my twelve year old, after three seasons, has the art of I have to have's down to a science!

Camp is so special that to have our school district even consider year-round school makes the whole family think seriously of moving. I cringe when I hear educators saying that summer camp isn't an important consideration when marketing year-round school. In my opinion, camps have a special purpose that, when incorporated into a child's life, create a well-rounded adult. I know that in today's world of specialties that term may sound dated, but I would rather work with an individual who has varied interests and experiences than one who has been focused in only one direction.

While the general schooling system is one that educates the masses, I feel in many cases the individual is lost or side-tracked. The children are taught what they "need to know" to move from one level to the next, and not what they want to learn at any given time. Of course, there is a happy medium, but with the volume of information that is to be assimilated and carried into adulthood, the task is one of monumental proportions. While I have been, and continue to be supportive of our local school district and its philosophies, there is a part of me that is uncomfortable with the "toe the line" mentality that rules the school day.

Educators in the 80s add 90s have been and will continue to be faced with more problems than in past decades. With the breakdown of the family network, are we not asking too much of teachers? How can we expect our school system to produce happy, well-balanced, well-educated young adults with high self-esteem, when many children's lives outside of school are filled with stresses that even a healthy adult would struggle to handle?

Summer camps are special places. They are set apart from the pace of everyday life. The staff can nurture the potential in children and their abundant curiosity and capacity for learning. My daughters learn more life skills in two months at camp than in nine months of school. I do not measure growth by the awards earned, but by the daily choices that were made along the way. The girls use problem solving skills that would impress any teacher. Time management, study techniques, memory skills, data collection, leadership, language skills and goal setting are used on a daily basis. The list goes on: priority setting, intergenerational and interracial interaction, decision making and the reaping of benefits or paying of consequences - it's all there at camp.

I am not a great saver of memorabilia. I guess I was always excited about moving on to the next adventure. While my sisters have large boxes of souvenirs from childhood, I have only three things: a shoulder braid from my riding school uniform, the stirrups I used for years, and my original camp sweatshirt. I have never lost that little girl love of horses nor of the camp where I spent so many summer hours.

A co-worker asked me last month if I was ever going to grow up. Of course I said no, but it started my brain working overtime. I am a registered nurse in charge of 11 beds in a 16-bed critical care unit. I feel that I do a good job and have been recognized by my supervisor as a valued employee. The reason I share this with you is that I think to be "grown-up" is to lose your youthful enthusiasm. I feel lucky that I'm still a little girl at heart - as are so many people that are involved with running a summer camp. We have a zest for life that no one can take away.

Co-workers have trouble understanding how we could "send our children away" for the summer. They don't understand that it is always the girls' choice to go and that we have made camp a priority in our budget. The girls know it is their decision and we talk of other options, but camp always comes out on top.

We all work together and make some sacrifices in our family to make summers at camp possible. The girls give up joining softball teams with their friends because they leave in mid-June. Special music opportunities are refused due to their summer absence, and half of their allowance is contributed to the camp store fund. I went back to work to make the tuition affordable; pleasantly, it is a job I love.

When we visit during the summer, we love watching the vitality in all the campers and staff. The growth we see in our daughters makes us proud. Getting to know some of the other campers and counselors is fun and makes us feel part of the camp experience. After assessing all the positive aspects of camp, I am tempted to respond to doubting educators by saying that school is a mere interruption of camp.

We've finally finished unpacking. The ribbons have been hung proudly in the appropriate bedrooms, and all the rolls of film have been developed and stories recounted. Best of all, in the quiet moments just before sleep, we lie on the bed and talk of last summer and next. Hopes and dreams are explored, and the summer days are planned out with assuredness in a way only the child in us can do. In the hectic pace of today's world, camp can be a place to go in body, mind and spirit. Isn't that a special gift to give our children?

Elizabeth B. Morse lives with her family in Underhill, Vermont.
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Title Annotation:summer camp's role in the education of children
Author:Morse, Elizabeth B.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:1081
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