I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kids. Mine, yours, ours. This spring was . . . weird, at best. And now, summer? Another season shaping up to be a bizarre one, perhaps severely disappointing, even unsettling. I’ve been thinking about the summers of my childhood—fresh vegetables from the garden, running barefoot through the rows of sunflowers, climbing trees, running through sprinklers, beach days, pool days, Mid-State-Fair Days, mud days, fort day, cousin days, lazy days. But perhaps my favorite summer days —or at least the ones that I believe built the most character and often make me smile the most when I look back— were those Summer Camp days.
Those days have been on my mind a lot lately, with so many camps all over the world closed for the season. I’ve been contemplating the impact camp has on childhood. For me, it’s hard to imagine what my childhood would have looked like without camp and pseudo-camp experiences (VBS, Pioneer Girl trips, extended family vacations, cousin sleepovers).
Summer Camp is in my blood. My family’s camp history is extensive and deeply-rooted. It would be impossible for me to give justice to the impact and value I believe Summer Camp can have on childhood without sharing with you what my family’s Camp Heritage looks like. For those of you who have attended Summer Camp, my family’s history may resonate with you. But if you never attended Summer Camp growing up, you may feel a little robbed in reading about what you missed out on—as my husband does. If that is the case, take heart in what my dad always says: “In parenting, you get a second chance at childhood.”
My Family’s CAMP SCRAPBOOK
~Camp Culture, History, and Heritage~
My grandfather, who was a pastor and missionary for most of his life, led a summer camp for his church every summer in Tuolumne Meadows, CA. This involved purchasing a fleet of tents, assembling a moving-van-load of professional cooking equipment, and furnishing a cattle truck (not kidding) with pallets and mattresses to serve as a makeshift camp bus to transport campers from southern CA up the interstate on a nine hour drive to camp (oh the days before seat-belt laws, hey?). My grandmother was the chief camp cook, serving up three infamously amazing meals a day for over one hundred campers (and I feel accomplished for cooking a from-scratch dinner for four . . . #adulting)!
Not only did my mom spend her high-school and college summers at camp with her parents, but my dad did too! Dad was one of my grandpa’s “scouts”. . . a group of young men who would wake up at dawn to chop firewood, set up camp, and help all the city “yuppies” (you know, the people who never learned practical life-skills) to adapt to life in nature. This wasn’t the first time my dad was called a scout. In fact, he had already earned the title of Eagle Scout before Grandpa recruited him. As an experienced camper and backpacker, my dad was an asset to Grandpa’s troop of “scouts”. But apparently my dad was a little too efficient with his duties, because he had time to do a little “scouting” of his own. It was during those Summer Camp days that my parents got . . . better acquainted, and where they first fell in love. Blame it on the pines. All that fresh air, you know. My dad says it started with the whole “I’m cold, can I borrow your jacket” bit, but my mom firmly denies it.
In addition to the family Tuolumne camp, my mom followed in my grandma’s footsteps and worked three summers on a kitchen crew at “Campus by the Sea” on Catalina Island. My dad worked at various Boy Scout camps as a counselor and Troop Leader. My parents were married by my grandpa, surrounded by their family, church family, and camp friends. Their honeymoon was a true California nature-lovers’ dream camping & hiking trip— a fusion of cabin and tent-camping through Idylwild, Mammoth, Tuolumne, White Mountains, Grover Hot Springs, and Lake Tahoe.
But the love and celebration of nature didn’t end with the honeymoon. 40 years, 5 kids, and 11 grandkids later . . . my parents still head out to the Stanislaus National Forest and Pinecrest Lake several times each year. The first time they took me, I was a week old, and I returned every summer of my childhood. It remains one of my favorite places in the world.
And not so coincidentally, all of these camp-heritage details were gathered and clarified over speaker-phone with my parents this past week as they made their way across half the continental US, “isolation camping” as they went. The purpose of their trip? To pick up my nephews to take them . . . you guessed it . . . camping and backpacking! I guess Summer Camp isn’t cancelled for those boys! (You can read all about my parents’ ongoing adventures and travels here on my mom’s blog: Granny Hat) The influence of camp, the love and respect of nature, and the spirit of the great outdoors has carried through in every aspect of my mom and dad’s parenting and grandparenting.
So much of our family culture has been camp-inspired, beginning with . . . the FOOD. You cook what you know, and mom sure learned to cook up a whole lot of camp food! When I was growing up, she cooked a lot of recipes she learned from her mom and from working in the kitchen at “Campus By the Sea” . . . heaps of taco-stack-up and trays of cookies and cakes (makes me homesick just typing that). All our friends loved coming over to our house growing up because they knew there would be some sort of freshly-baked treat on the table.
Camp traditions also played a big role in the way my mom homeschooled us—from flag ceremonies and recited anthems, to incredible science projects, to epic field trips, to nature-rich arts & crafts. Even our holidays and birthdays were infused with camp flair; hilarious Christmas skits and elaborate caroling, epic Easter Egg Scavenger Hunts, reverent Independence Day celebrations, Hallowed Halloweens, and Birthday Bashes to remember.
Meanwhile, Dad furnished us with plenty of practical-life . . . chores, such as gathering and stacking firewood, weeding the garden, husking corn, grafting trees, not wasting water or electricity, and composting by the “chuck-it-in-the-orchard” method. He also instilled in all of us (boys or otherwise) the twelve values of the Boy Scout Law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” While my friends were all “pinkey-swearing” in the late 90’s . . . I was saying “Scout’s Honor.”
Following my dad and grandfather, my brothers are both third-generation Eagle Scouts. My older brother has since upgraded his merit badges for a collection of medals and promotions as an officer in the Air Force. And my younger brother, who literally took his first steps on the trail, has put his love of hiking and Boy Scout survival skills to the ultimate test and solo through-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the borders of Mexico to Canada. Suffice it to say, the boys in my family really know how to survive. (Read all about my brother’s epic PCT adventures here: Mission’s Epic Trek)
For us girls, we earned a different set of badges in “Pioneer Girls” . . . which was basically like Girl Scouts, except we memorized Bible verses, got to eat cookies instead of sell them, and we were allowed to wear jeans or colorful corduroys instead of matching green khaki skorts. Oh, and instead of a vest, our moms sewed our badges onto satchels (gotta love the 90’s) or Bible covers. All of us, boys and girls alike, were taught to pitch a tent, build a fire, keep a cool head in a bad situation, and to . . . above all. . . for the love of all that is good and holy, place your hand on that Pioneer-patched Bible- cover and swear . . . to ALWAYS BE PREPARED.
One way my parents made sure we would always be prepared was to continue the family tradition and send us to Summer Camp. They were wise to do so because, truth be told, the skills my siblings and I learned and the experiences we had at Summer Camp have all had immeasurable impacts on our lives. I even interviewed my siblings to see just how influential they each believe camp has been in their life. Added to my parents’ interviews, I came away with more than ten pages of notes and hilarious anecdotes. I will share many of those stories and takeaways over the next several posts in this series . . . but for today, here is the collective verdict: Camp stretched us and pushed us out of our comfort zones. Camp let us explore new skills and allowed us to experiment with new-found freedoms. Camp challenged and built our character, instilled virtue and value, and inspired leadership. Oh, and it was a whole freakin’ lot of fun.
I am in no way saying that camp is the only place where you can gain these kinds of skills and experiences. Summer Camp merely covers a lot of ground when it comes to being exposed to a wide-range of activities and experiences. How else could just a few weeks have such an enormous impact on an entire life? It was at camp where my siblings and I first experienced homesickness. It was at camp that my oldest brother (the one who is a beloved squadron-leading officer in the Air Force) gained leadership skills. It was at camp where my little brother and I each first faced our fears of the water. It was at camp that I encountered my first truly “mean girl” and had to learn to let “water roll off a duck’s back” (another life-lesson from my dad). It was at camp where my oldest sister (who later became a Cross-Fit competitor and gym-owner) first discovered her love for competition and athleticism. It was on the Campfire Stage that my middle sister and I each discovered a love for the theater which has been foundational in almost everything each of us has done since.
Although my husband never got to go to Summer Camp, when we were in High School he and my now-brother-in-law got to go on their first backpack with my dad and little brother. Not only was it my husband’s first backpack . . . it was also his first time truly tent camping.
Thankfully, the trip went well. And a few years later, we got married . . . at a Summer Camp.
Why do I bother to share with you my family’s camp history? Because heritage and tradition are the spirit of camp. Ultimately, camp is life-experience and story—a collection of fond memories, and let’s not forget your camp souvenirs: practical-life skills, character, and values. Saying “Summer Camp matters” has no color. Stories speak louder than mere words.
Welcome to CAMP QUARANTINE!
~DIY Summer Camp 2020~
So, here’s the moral of the . . . stories: If your kid needs to grow up, toughen up, loosen up, shut up, learn some life skills, blow off some steam, get their priorities straight, gain some perspective, have some good-old-fashioned fun, learn some respect, or have that silver spoon yanked out of their mouth . . . I have one piece of advice for you: send them to camp!!!
Oh. . . BUT WAIT! For the first time . . . maybe ever. . . camps all over the world are closed. SUMMER CAMP 2020 IS CANCELED.
OR IS IT????
I suppose we can just . . . wait until next year. But how many more summers do our kids have left to be . . . kids? How many more opportunities do they have to rack up these priceless experiences of childhood? How much more time do they have to develop their characters and learn how to #adult before it’s too late? I don’t want our kids to miss out on any of their summers! They only get eighteen of them for crying out loud, and only about nine of those are summer camp years! So, I have another plan: DIY Summer Camp. Ok, so it won’t be quite the same without all the other campers and . . . well, um . . . the lake. But halfway is better than none. And as my great grandmother always used to say: “can’t never did nothin’!” In the end, as seen in my family’s camp culture, history, and heritage, it is the SPIRIT of Summer Camp that matters most.
So, let’s go grass-roots and infuse our homes this summer with camp-inspired activities that are rich in practical life-skills and good old-fashioned fun! LET’S JUST GO ALL IN (maybe even SHUT-IN) AND SUMMER CAMP AT HOME. Sound insane? Lame? Ambitious? A stretch? Cheesy? Intimidating? (Good, those things are what camp is all about!) Warm up the bus!!! Summer Camp 2020 is back on!! I’ll be your camp leader (if you’ll have me), Sergeant Firefly. Welcome to CAMP QUARANTINE!
Follow below and stay tuned for 14 Reasons Why Summer Camp Matters, + your CAMP QUARANTINE ITINERARY!
I hope you and your family will join us this summer in building Camp-Inspired Heritage through experiences that are skill-strong, character-deep, and value-rich.
Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~