This summer I spent at week at Camp Arev with my sons. Our theme for summer camp was Christmas in July. It was Juniors week, for campers in 3rd-5th grades, so my son James was a camper. My older son, Silas, went as Event Staff. I was asked to head up Arts & Crafts and run Club Shed, the camp store.
Because I love fashion and dressing up and stilettos, people are always surprised to hear how much I love camping. I'm not an outdoorsy person, but I love spending time in the mountains and I don't mind sleeping in a tent. I was a girl scout when I was younger and I loved camping with my troop.
Camping is not only a fun activity, it is incredibly beneficial for children. Even though it's hard to be away from parents and family, sleep-away camp is a time for kids to learn independence in a safe environment. It's a time to push boundaries and step outside comfort zones. And it's a time to enjoy God's creation and grow closer to Him.
Here are nine (of many) lessons I learned at Camp Arev this summer:
Once a mommy, always a mommy.
A highlight of Camp Arev is the mid-week mud pit activity. This is when teams compete in several games in a huge pile of mud. James took one look at the mud pit and said, "I'm not going in there!" Okay, fine. Until I found him 30 minutes later sitting in the middle of the mud pit covered from head to toe in sludge. At one point I found a little girl crying because there was mud in her eyes. I took her over to the hose to clean her eyes but the camp director saw me and said, "HEY! Leave your 'mommy' down the hill! No water!" HEY – I can't remove my "mommy" no matter where I am or who I'm with!
In Fresno, we don't whine!
Kids are kids, whether they're at home or at camp. And whining gets on my nerves, whether I'm at home or at camp. Any time I heard whining (from campers or counselors), I responded with, "In Fresno, we don't whine!" A little smile made the admonition a little easier to take and people quickly realized that I'm from Fresno, I love Fresno and Fresno rules.
Comfort Zones are comfortable.
I know who I am and I know what I like. And I'm very comfortable there. When I was asked to lead Arts & Crafts, I panicked a little (okay, a lot). Who knew pine cones could evoke so much anxiety? I'm not artsy. I'm not crafty. I'm not creative. I'm not even on Pinterest. I stressed out for months about planning four simple crafts. Thankfully I had help and it all worked out even better than I expected. Also, glitter makes everything better.
Kids like candy.
During each session our amazing speaker, Cynthia, challenged the kids with a spelling word or an acrostic. And the winner would get Smarties candy. You'd think these kids never saw candy before! So simple, yet so effective. Cynthia was able to hold their attention, get them to participate, and make it all fun.
No candy before dinner.
I opened Club Shed during free time each afternoon, and the crowd was steady. We sold candy, soda and camp merchandise. Kids lined up with wadded up bills and Ziploc baggies full of change. Most would buy one or two items, but there were some kids who purchased four or five candy bars at a time. Well, they tried to, until I cut them off. Who needs six bags of Sour Patch Kids half an hour before dinner? Sorry, buddy. That's gonna be a hard no. I'm proud to say I only made one kid cry.
Everyone loves a hug.
There were several young girls from my church at camp and I checked in on them often (see rule #1, above). When I saw them in chapel or the cafeteria, I gave them a quick hug. Sometimes I would see them looking for me, and I always made sure to ask how they were doing. It can be scary to be away from your parents for a week when you're that young, so I always made sure to show them love and let them know they were not alone.
Kids need to get wild. It's good for them.
Whether it was the mud pit, the shaving cream fight, the human car wash, or the night games, kids love to get wild! And it's so good for them. They need to let loose, get dirty, and do things that they can't necessarily do at home. One night James came over to me with a drawn-on mustache and beard, wearing blue eyeshadow, and marker writing all over his face, arms and stomach. He was smiling ear-to-ear, loving the attention he got from the counselors during the game and knowing he would never get away with this at home.
A sweet boy named Sammy was at camp for the first time. He looked like he was having fun, even though he didn't smile much. We were at the zip line one afternoon, and I saw him getting suited up with the harness and helmet. He cautiously climbed the ladder and listened to the instructions. But he wouldn't jump. We all yelled encouragements from the ground. "You can do it, Sammy! You got this!" I could see the anguish on his face. He wanted to; he was trying so hard to face his fear. In the end, he didn't jump. But sometimes climbing the ladder is a victory in itself.
Always have a Plan B.
The last night of camp we headed down to Victory Circle for worship around the campfire. Our camp director asked the kids questions about how their faith had grown during the week and how they might live out what they learned when they headed down the mountain and back to their everyday lives. It was a beautiful time of singing and sharing. And then it was time for s'mores. Well, we were supposed to have s'mores, but while we were singing mice decided to have their own little party in our food bags. What good is a campfire without s'mores?! Some of us ran back to the kitchen, made a huge batch of brownies, and ended up having an impromptu dance party in the cafeteria to end our week with a bang. I didn't hear even one kid complain about not having s'mores.
Camping is a fantastic experience for everyone involved, from campers to counselors to staff and even for parents. Picking up dirty, exhausted kids at the end of the week and coming home to do loads of laundry is worth it when you see the glimmer in their eyes when they tell you about the mouse that got in their cabin or how they wore the same clothes for three days in a row. When you take out all of their **unworn** clean underwear from their bag. When your trunk is covered in glitter from the crafts they brought home. When you find a scrap of paper in their shorts' pocket with a new friend's name and email scribbled on it. And when they tell you that GRACE means God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
I can't wait to go back. Even if I have to leave my stilettos at home.