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Experts Agree: Camp is Cool

Summer is over – which means camp directors can catch up on our summer reading.

In the past few months, the media has been filled with stories examining the camp experience. A variety of writers extol it, from several intriguing angles.

Reviewing Michael Thompson’s new book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, Time Magazine’s Bonnie Rochman said the author focused on the magic of camp after realizing “it’s where most kids first battle homesickness only to emerge triumphantly independent.” But it’s not only children who benefit: the Time story is titled “Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents.” Camp lets parents realize that their children are growing up; that they can be independent, and survive away from home. And, of course, time apart from their kids is important for parents’ own relationships and fulfillment.

Talya Minsberg picked up on that theme in her piece for the New York Times’ “Motherlode” parenting blog. Youngsters grow and explore at camp, she says, “despite their parents’ worry.”

Minsberg should know. A former camp counselor herself, her piece is a paean to “the in-jokes, goofy rituals and the cherished memories” of a camp-filled summer.

She called camp “magical…a place removed from the stresses and distractions of the real world, where staff members and campers alike discover a new kind of independence and responsibility. Camp is a place of positive transformation – where you…clean up your dishes and make your bed with no complaints, and meet undoubtedly the coolest people in the world: your 19-year-old counselors.”

Writing lovingly for Slate, John Dickerson also nailed the camp experience — with a twist in his article, “My Daughter Went Away to Camp and Changed.” A former camper who returned to pick up his daughter 36 years later, he noted that camp hasn’t changed. However – happily – she had.

In her father’s absence, she’d grown up. She’d explored, taken risks, tried new identities. “We are not invited” to camp, Dickerson said. That’s “a paper-cut echo of the truth at the heart of parenting: You’re doing it best when you’re teaching them to leave you.”

Camp is a perfect way for parents to teach children to leave them. It’s also a perfect way for parents to teach themselves how to let go, and take their own steps toward independence. Independence, that is, from their kids. That doesn’t mean they love their children any less. In fact, it means they love them more.

The young people these writers love are back at home now. They’re glad to be there. Their parents are happy to have them. But odds are good that they can’t wait for next summer to arrive.