In the interest of transparency, I attended a Ranch Camp during the majority of my childhood summers and LOVED it. The experience continues to inform my life to this very day. Further transparency—my daughter is quiet and shy, so discerning her feelings around something takes a lot of work. Of course, we want the best for her.
All that being said, when camp began to come up in our family as a possibility, rather than just an idea for some time in the future, we had some mixed feelings. While I had a wonderful experience at summer camp as a child, my wife’s experience was mixed, and she was mostly ambivalent. When we began talking to our daughter seriously about the possibility of her attending camp, I could tell she was both anxious and curious. Since the glimmer was there, I poured it on. I shared my positive experience of camp as a child. I spoke with her about the aspects of a ranch camp/adventure camp that I thought would excite her and offer her areas of social-emotional growth. We also spoke quite a bit about homesickness and what it was like to be away from home for an extended period of time for the very first time. I shared with her my own experience that homesickness is real, that it’s ephemeral, that it can return if you’re exhausted or sick or just having a bad day. That it would go away as easily as it arrived. And, then, after some negotiations with my wife, I let our daughter know that she was going to camp, I was signing her up, and I was certain (mostly certain) that she was going to have a blast.
Fast-forward to drop off day. We drove our daughter to camp. It’s not so far away from where we live. Her trunk was in the back of my truck. We took a picture at the gate and drove the four miles into the ranch. Things got real for all of us. As I said before, our daughter is quiet and shy (until she warms up to a situation.) All of us were nervous. We dropped her trunk, checked in, met with the camp nurse and got that lice check, found her cabin and counselors. We helped her make her bunk. I could see she was nervous and on the verge of tears. I knew it was time to scoot (and it was so hard!) I think I said something like, “alright, Sugar, we gotta get back home. I know you’re gonna have a blast. Be good. Have fun. We love you.”
That was nearly it for a month. We did get a few letters. Very few. They seemed to indicate a good time. Her counselors called a time or two and reported what we expected. She had warmed up, was a great camper, and was having fun.
On the day of final rodeo, we drove back to camp eager to bring our daughter home. We missed her! My heart was full when I saw her face before she saw mine. I knew the gamble had worked. Her parents were right (again!) She had a blast. She flourished at camp. Her smile was so wide and her face was so bright (and dirty)—this quiet kid who’s slow to warm up. We did what you do on that last day of camp. We loaded her trunk and duffle and a few more things she collected along the way in the truck, said goodbye and pointed down the road. Of course, there were tears as she said goodbye to her new friends (still her very dear friends) and counselors. When we pulled away from the ranch, I asked, “Sugar, is this the best thing you’ve ever done?” From the back of the truck, I heard, “yes.” The best thing she’s ever done!
Kids have a little more agency these days. They’re included in more decisions than I was as a child. I suppose that’s probably progress. Admittedly, I’m the kind of parent that makes my kid go to lacrosse practice nine times out of ten when she’s just not feeling it. I think it’s character building to keep a commitment for your coach and team. But the question of whether you should make your kid go to camp is a little different. If you were asking me, I’d ask you, does your intuition or your gut tell you that this would be a good experience for your child? Can you get to 51% of me believes my child would not just survive but possibly flourish? If you can, I would encourage you to send you child to camp. She or he will experience a measure of growth that you and I can’t provide in the same way in the same time frame, AND they will have the time of their lives. And if there life takes a similar trajectory as mine, perhaps they will find themselves at mid-life moving their family from the city to the mountains because the mountains and the rivers and the animals just got into their bones while they were a kid on the back of a horse with a group of compadres having the time of their lives that lead them to live lives of adventure, joy, grit, hard work, and fun. 51% is all the data you need.