I just finished writing about my own summer camp experience and how important it is to give your kids the chance to grow and thrive—away from home. This post will serve as part-two of the summer camp story. I want to share with you an incredible organization I’ve come across that grants children in Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods the opportunity to experience the joys and thrills of overnight camp.
It’s called Moorelands Community Services, and it has been working to improve the lives of kids for 100 years. “Our purpose is to give low-income urban children a fighting chance to succeed,” says Patricia Jacobs, the organization’s executive director.
And what’s really amazing about Moorelands is they not only organize and run programs within the city (leadership workshops, after school programs, and day camps) they also own and operate a 40-acre wilderness camp near Dorset, Ontario where kids have the chance to spend eight days immersed in all the activities, adventures, and experiences that go along with overnight camp.
“We’ve seen first-hand the impact summer camp has on children’s lives,” says Patricia. “And it is tremendous—particularly for the children we serve who have very limited exposure to the experiences and opportunities that help kids succeed.” In just eight days, she says, kids who attend Moorelands Wilderness Camp experience increased self-esteem and develop invaluable leadership skills. Both of which last long after the camp session is over.
“These days we have these lovely parents who adore their children and want to protect them and hover over them like helicopters,” Patricia says. “Camp gives the kids of these parents a chance to break free, to take safe risks, and to experience independence on so many levels.”
And for many of Mooreland’s campers, the opportunity also exists to reinvent themselves—to be whoever they truly want to be. “At school they may be slower to pick up on things, or have learning disabilities, or they may be chubby—whatever the stigma is. But, at camp they get to be a different person, to succeed at things like the high ropes course they’d never get a chance to try in the city, and to feel really good about themselves as a result.”
Activities include canoeing, kayaking, arts and crafts, vocal music, drama, high ropes, low ropes, and many other traditional camp programs.
With space for 100 kids per session, and offering six sessions per summer, Moorelands is able to give 600 kids the chance to experience camp every summer. And while each camper’s family is required to pay something to send their child to camp, what they pay is based completely on their income. “The actual cost to send one child to camp for a week is $840, but because more than 70 percent of our families earn $24,000 or less annually, we have a sliding scale when it comes to camp fees,” Patricia tells me. For many families, the price paid out of pocket is as little as $25.
“The idea behind having everyone pay something is to change the relationship dynamic from one of ‘charity and supplicant’ to one of ‘service provider and consumer’” Patricia explains. “And, we often hear kids at camp saying: ‘My mom paid a lot of money for me to come here...’” This helps ensure no one takes the experience for granted.
The majority of the funding for Moorelands overnight camp programs comes from donations from businesses and individuals.
Which is where you come in.
I know many of you are already spending a lot to send your own kids to camp this summer. But wouldn’t it make you feel amazing to know you’re not only giving your own kids this invaluable opportunity, but also paying it forward to someone else’s child who would never be able to go to camp otherwise?
A donation of $210 will cover two full days of fun and activities for one child. You can even make a donation in someone’s honour (i.e. for a birthday gift, or retirement gift) or have your kids collect donations for Moorelands at their next birthday party instead of presents.
The happiest part of this story is how good you’ll feel knowing you’re helping a little person gain invaluable life experiences that will surely help them navigate adolescence and beyond.
Plus, doing something good for a kid in need, may help distract you from the fact that you've been left at home yet again, while your kid gets to spend the summer at camp, learning and growing and living it up with her friends!
Summer camp was my happy place. But also my sad place. It started the summer I was nine. My mom had loved camp as a kid. So much so that she’d built it up to be the most magical and wonderful experience in the world. And, somehow nine-year-old me, who was nothing short of a mama’s girl, was convinced she was ready for a four-week overnight camp experience...all on her own!
There was no such thing as pre-camp, or junior camp, or trial camp, or anything else to ease a kid into the overnight experience back then. It was first session or second session or the whole summer. And, so my mom signed me up to spend July at camp.
I can just picture myself back then: this small town kid, with big frizzy hair, and a florescent pink t-shirt that said 'COOL' across the front (circa 1990). I mustered up all my confidence, choked back tears, and climbed onto a bus that would take me up to Camp Walden where I would join a bunch of kids from Toronto who all knew each other from school and would go on to make my first camp experience...for lack of a better word...hell!
I cried because I was homesick. They teased me because I cried. Looking back (and having been a camp counselor) I realize no one likes a kid who cries all the time. But how was I supposed to know that? I missed my mom and I was out of my element. I’d never been away from home for more than a night. And, instead of that magical experience I’d been dreaming of, I found myself in the midst of a group of kids who had already formed their clique...and had no intention of welcoming me into it.
Despite all my tears and daily meetings with the camp director’s wife (who tried her best to make me feel better) I did have some fun doing things I’d never have been able to do at home. I won a big swim race. Made tons of pottery creations using a wheel and kiln. Got involved with the camp production of Cats. Learned wonderful new camp songs. Attended my first dance. And, spent four weeks in stunning natural surroundings.
Looking back on the experience, I’d have to say it was one of the best...and worst of my life. Because, while some of the things my cabin-mates would say (and sing) to make fun of me really hurt (this was before bullying was a hot-button issue at camp)...I also learned that no matter what, I could survive on my own. I was much stronger and more independent than I’d ever imagined.
And so, when Visitor's Day came (around the two-week mark) and my mom saw how sad I was and offered to take me home with her, I somehow found the strength refuse her offer and opted to stay and finish out my first camp experience.
Two years later, after taking a summer off to regain my confidence, I hopped on a different school bus (this time with my younger brother in tow) bound for Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa where I would spend the next four summers as a camper and later (after a two-year break to attend the truly magical Camp Arowhon) a counselor.
All of this brings me to the more recent discovery of an aptly titled new book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, written by renowned psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Michael Thompson.
The reason I’m telling you all of this is because many of you are likely getting ready to send your kids off to camp this summer. Or perhaps you’re considering it for next summer. Or maybe you’re freaking out because, as Dr. Thompson says is extremely common these days, your kid is ready for camp, but it’s you who isn’t ready.
I have a two year old; so I’m in no position to say how I’m going to feel when she asks me to go to overnight camp for the first time. But, I can say this: there was nothing more valuable for me as a kid than being given the opportunity to experience life away from my parents and the comforts of my home. It gave me courage and confidence, life skills which continue to come in handy to this day. Plus, I've been writing about summer camp for the past five years or so, and most camp experts would agree with me on this one.
“Homesickness is almost universal,” Dr. Thompson tells me over the phone during an interview last week. “Ninety-seven percent of kids report some form of it...but 81 percent of those kids say it’s over within three or four days.”
According to Dr. Thompson who has spent the past 35 years working as a clinical psychologist, school consultant, and international speaker on the subjects of children, schools and parenting, we modern parents we are so busy trying to protect ours kids from trauma that we jump at the opportunity to intervene on their behalf, and spend way too much energy trying to ‘fix’ everything for them. All of this prevents them from stepping up to the plate and finding their own courage.
"Modern parents think their presence always adds value to their kids lives," he tells me. "But, this is not the case. You can not give your child independence. You can only open the door and let your child walk out and have an experience on his or her own."
Easier said than done right?!
What’s truly amazing about camp, however, is the fact that this independence is taking place in a safe, nurturing, and controlled environment where you can trust your kids will be safe and accounted for. Which should mean that if you’re about to drop your kids off for a camp experience this summer (no matter if it’s for two nights or 28 nights) you should do so with the confidence that you’re giving your kid the best possible life experience, no matter how much they'll miss you (or you'll miss them!).
“Don’t put your child on the bus with your face looking stricken," says Dr. Thompson. "If you show your maternal anxiety to your child in this situation you’re undermining their experience.”
Know this: "Camp ushers kids into a thrilling world of emotionally significant experiences that are theirs alone—ones they can only get when away from home."
So grab a glass of wine. Sit back and put up your feet. Enjoy the peace and quiet. And let your kid know that while you love them dearly, you know they are going to be just fine at camp, and you are going to be just fine at home!
As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my home office looking out the window at the wind blowing through the trees. I can hear the birds singing; and the low buzz of traffic. As on most summer days, I’m feeling a bit antsy. The sky is blue. The air is warm. And, I’m stuck inside working. This longing to be outside is not great for my productivity. Every summer it’s the same. I think it’s something most of us struggle with. Especially if you work in an office with no outside view and the air conditioner blasting from above. (That’s one of the reasons I quit my job to become a freelancer—I kid you not!)
Despite the fact that I work for myself and set my own hours, typically when I’m facing deadlines and have a ton of things on my to-do list, I force myself to sit at my desk and get it all done. Whenever I do grant myself permission to leave my desk and take a walk outside I’m much more likely to come up with brilliant ideas and experience a flood of creativity. Despite this, I spend way too much time indoors.
This year I’m planning to make a change. And, my inspiration is this great new book, Your Brain on Nature. I adore Toronto in the summer. The beach calls to me. I love the feeling of the grass between my toes in our local park. I’m happy when I’m hanging out amongst the trees. It’s really hard to feel stressed when wandering through the forest on a beautiful sunny day. And thanks to this book, I now know why.
According to Dr. Alan Logan, a Toronto-trained Naturopath and the book’s co-author, practicing shinrin-yogu (a Japanese concept that translates to “forest air bathing”) has been proven to improve your mental state, attentiveness, energy, and even heart health. Being in nature lowers your cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and blood pressure and stimulates feelings of love and inner peace.
The bottom line: going outside has been scientifically proven to be really, really good for you.
So, why do we spend so much time in front of our computers, and televisions, and iPhones; cooped up indoors when the weather outside is gorgeous? “The lure of the screen can be very attractive to adults and kids alike,” Alan tells me. And, I know this to be true. Even when I’m out for a walk, or playing with my two-year-old in the park, I’m totally guilty of checking my email or playing on Twitter.
According to Alan, the way to reap the ultimate reward from being in nature is doing so in a mindful way. Have you ever watched a little kid examining a bug on a leaf? Or smelling a flower; commenting on the colour and shape of the petals? I know I can’t go outside with my own daughter without her stopping to scoop up rocks, hug trees, feel the earth under her feet, and chase after birds—this is as mindful as it gets.
So, this summer, I’m taking cues from my kid. Her ultimate happy place is the outdoors. Though she too can be lured by Barney and Dora and other TV shows—when she’s outside playing, she’s truly happy. So until winter rolls around and we have an excuse to complain about the cold, damp weather, this is our opportunity to benefit from what research has now proven to be the ultimate natural stress remedy. Grab your kids, your sunscreen, and your butterfly net, or ball, or gardening shovel, and get outside and enjoy the moment!
As an added bonus, all this exposure to nature should help foster a love of the earth and a more sustainable, green-friendly mindset in your kids. And, what our planet really needs right now is more kids who love and respect their natural habitat!
Here are Dr. Alan Logan’s top 10 ways to ways to cure nature deficit disorder & have some fun while you’re at it:
1. Plant a garden: backyard, roof-top, or community.
2. Learn about the native plant species in your neighborhood.
3. Get a bird feeder and notice the birds in your neighborhood. Listen for their call. Read about them.
4. Make it a priority for your family to spend 20 minutes outside daily: walk with mindfulness by observing details you might otherwise have let go unnoticed (e.g. detail within leaves, bark on trees etc.).
5. Volunteer to dog-walk for your neighbors.
6. Grab some gear for outdoor play: be it a frisbee or bug catcher or butterfly net or fishing rod.
7. Visit a botanical garden, forest or arboretum.
8. Shave off a bit of family screen time. Keep a screen time diary for a week and consider how much time is devoted to the screen. Turn off devices to minimize their intrusion into mindfulness of the outdoor experience.
9. Join a hiking group.
10. Learn about geocaching.
Want to win a copy of Your Brain on Nature? Just tell me in the comments below how you plan to get outside and really enjoy nature this summer.
Yummy Rules and Regs: You must be a Yummy Mummy Club member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per member. Entries accepted until June 29th, 2012. Contest open to Canadian residents (excluding Quebec). Winners will be picked using www.random.org.
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