When I look back on my time at summer camp, I recall very specific experiences—learning to fold and care for the American flag; hitting my first full canter astride a horse; learning sign language; pouring lye down the outhouse privy; synchronized swimming in the pond; singing silly songs around a campfire; peaceful devotions under a pine tree canopy; and maybe even a few preteen crushes.
What I didn't know at the time was that these camp experiences affected me in a multitude of ways, such as building character, teaching me independence and social skills, keeping me active, and growing my faith. Now, as a mother of two, I choose to send my kids to overnight camp. They began attending camp the summer before they entered second grade and now, at 12 and 10 years old, it is still the highlight of their summer.
If you didn't attend camp as a child and are on the fence about sending your kids, I know there is a lot to consider. I hope that these stories shared by some of our readers about the many benefits of camp might help you with your decision.
"Summer camp was the best experience ever. I was an only child and didn't have many neighborhood friends, so Camp Mantou-Lin was like having a field day! It gave me a sense of independence to be away from my parents, and I will never forget getting up at 5:30 a.m. for the Polar Bear Plunge. I even got an award for it. Now, I am a stepmom of three and have sent my two youngest to camp for two summers. They were so nervous to go at first, and after one week away it was like a new little piece of them had sprouted in their hearts."
—Jenine Prus, MPA, Chief Advancement Officer, Family Futures
Camp Mantou-Lin, Middleville, Michigan
"I went to Camp Arcadia, a Lutheran camp with an idyllic setting on Lake Michigan. I was a camper there for four years (age 13 – 17) and then I returned as a camp counselor for a couple years when I was in college. Loved it! Being away from home forces youth and young adults to assert independence and leave comfort zones. In addition to meeting new friends from around the state, I experienced activities I wouldn't have otherwise."
—Sue Tellier, Owner, Vice President, Proposal Guru, JetCo Solutions
Camp Arcadia, Arcadia, Michigan
"I attended Grace Youth Camp in 1984; the summer when my mom was battling breast, liver and eventually brain cancer. It gave me time to be a kid again, to see healthy, active, caring people and to just get a break from illness. I learned to ride a horse and control it through the barrel course ... Controlling something, anything really, at that time in my life was invaluable!"
—Jennifer Jurgens, Executive Director, Komen Michigan
Grace Youth Camp, Mears, Michigan
"I spent my tween years attending weeklong summer camps in Idaho's Sawtooth National Forest and Payette National Forest. Both sprawling forests cover over 2 million acres each, which is what I loved most about camp. It was exhilarating feeling isolated but still among new friends and constant activities. I didn't want the week to end."
—Shelby Reno, Owner, CKO Grand Rapids
Trinity Pines, Cascade, Idaho, and Camp Sawtooth, Ketchum, Idaho
"At overnight camp, you gain independence that helps you in your adult years, particularly at work. And everyone who goes to summer camp knows the term 'camp friends.'"
—Erica Wikander, Attorney, Velzen, Johnsen, and Wikander, PC
Camp Tanuga, Kalkaska, Michigan
"Attending overnight camp is one of my happiest childhood memories. I made lifelong friendships and gained a sense of independence. Four weeks of water sports, horseback riding, songs and camaraderie—I can't wait until my kids get to experience this rite of passage."
—Lisa Stickler, Staff Writer, West Michigan Woman
Camp Tamarack, Ortonville, Michigan
"In the 1950s, when the country was still very segregated and I attended an all-white school, I spent one week each summer at Camp Newaygo. There I was exposed to African-Americans for the first time ever. Every cabin had one or two African-American girls. I found out they were very much like me! It was an experience in diversity, before that was even a concept! When I was an early teen, I went to Camp Roger for a few summers, each time going without a friend from home. My self-esteem was not the best at that time in my life. I was surprised to find I made friends easily in the camp setting. Finding I could do that gave my self-esteem an immeasurable boost that carried on into my life after camp."
—Susan Olthof, RN (Retired), Holland Home
Camp Newaygo, Newaygo, Michigan and Camp Roger, Rockford, Michigan
"My best summer camp experience was the year I transitioned from camper to camp counselor. I really hit my stride when I could start making the rules instead of following them. I was never very good at sticking to camp rules."
—Lauren Sylvester, Brokerage Associate, CWD Real Estate Investment
St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran, Plymouth, Michigan
"Church Camp, camping with the Girl Scouts, and Youth Conservation Corps were BIG nature events in my life! The singing of Kumbaya, the playing of the outdoor games, plus developing a work ethic by pruning trees with the Corps certainly shaped my adult ways! But a warning to parents: Do not be late in picking up your little redheaded, homesick child from a week away at camp. It turned out all good!"
—Shelley Irwin, Host/Producer, WGVU Morning Show
"Some of my favorite overnight camp memories are living in a platform tent with new friends, spending days outside involved in sports of all kinds, creating a variety of arts and crafts projects, singing a million songs and eating meals with my whole village. My all time favorite activity was our daylong canoe trip!"
—Marilyn Fealk, Teacher (Retired)
Camp Tamarack, Ortonville, Michigan
If you are considering summer camp for your child, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation's Summer Camp Guide is a great place to start. Complete with an impressive camp directory and facts on safety, facilities, financial resources and culture, this website has the information and resources for parents looking to find the perfect place for their little camper.
Written by Lisa Young (pictured at the top), West Michigan Woman marketing director. Lisa attended Brook Cherith Camp in Pierson, Michigan, and Cran Hill Ranch in Rodney, Michigan, as a youth. Her daughter and son attend Camp Roger in Rockford, Michigan, each summer, at which time she thoroughly enjoys having eight nights home alone with her husband.