Need a break? Not you, your kids. Send’ em off to summer camp, says author Wendy Mogel:
Mogel has gained a loyal following as the consummate anti-hyper-parent since her 2001 book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. The book draws on the teachings of the Torah and the Talmud to encourage parents to back off, let kids make mistakes, endure bad moments and learn self-reliance.
The event this Sunday will be her first time speaking in Canada, but she has delivered her message to camp organizations across the United States.
“In an era when the default position is overprotection, over- indulgence and overscheduling … camp is a wildly potent antidote,” says Mogel.
She broke her leg riding bareback at camp one summer but stayed and learned to fish.
As Mogel wrote in a 2006 article in Camping Magazine: “Kids, at camp you will get all kinds of valuable gifts; you will get homesick, other campers will be mean to you, the food won’t be great, you’ll be cold and hot and hungry … I hope all of this will happen to you because otherwise you are deprived. Of life. Of its thorns and its roses.”
I grew up in a non-hot-house family and in a time when kids were actually allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, our young lives filled with boredom and empty hours — that we learned to fill with our imaginations or own activities.
I went off to summer camp, every summer all summer, from the age of eight to the age of 16. I loved it.
I attended three different camps, all in northern Ontario, and am still friends with a few of the girls I met there. I can think of few life-shaping, character-altering experiences more powerful than finding a sleep-away camp you love. I discovered a deep, powerful and abiding devotion to a life spent often outdoors; learned how physically strong and capable I am; learned that I could make new friends. I even learned, at 16, I had leadership skills when I was elected by fellow campers to a role that demanded planning, ideas, creativity and motivating dozens of girls my age and younger.
Every month, we’d put on a musical and I usually won the lead role — anyone want a chorus of “Just In Time”? I played my guitar and sang songs I’d written at our Sunday evening talent shows. My confidence speaking publicly is a direct result of stepping onto a stage year after year, building my skills and starting to trust them. Unlike boarding school, where the focus was on obedience and endless achievement, camp was a place to test new ideas, skills and muscles, to renew and deepen friendships, to learn to trust our counselors. We earned and won badges for our skills — J-stroke, jibing, canter — but the larger point was trying, not winning.
When you’re out on a week-long canoe trip, in the rain on an enormous lake with a headwind, what choice do you have? Whine, bitch, moan, give up? No. Paddle hard, belt out some great paddling songs, and get to the next campsite. Nature is becoming an abstraction for many kids now, spending 7.5 hours a day attached to media-providing devices.
Nature is powerful and beautiful — and can kill you. But not if you learn to read a map and compass, how to give CPR, how to do an Eskimo roll or shoulder a 60-pound canoe over a muddy mile-long portage. Camp can teach you that.