Could you successfully organize a group of 50 people in a massive game of capture the flag—or would you at least seriously consider playing (even though you might be 36 years old)? Do you secretly hope your homeowners association will organize a neighborhood scavenger hunt, or maybe that human resources will facilitate a lively song circle at the next office birthday party? You are an Adult Happy Camper. AHCs are known for a certain playful joie de vivre. Also, most AHCs know all the words to “Alive-alert-awake” and are not totally averse to a good food fight.
But summer camp is not all ropes courses, s’mores, and panty raids. In addition to making lifelong friendships at summer camp, many folks learn certain life skills and lessons that travel very well into adulthood. Consider the 5 things happy campers know:
1) Drink water and sing.
Even happy campers report feeling homesick at summer camp at least once, and all adults will likely grapple with some kind of misty melancholy and wistful longing for “home.” There is no cure to homesickness, but staying hydrated and singing never hurt anybody. In fact, drinking water and singing are just good life practices. Dehydration is a totally avoidable malady, and the reinforcement of positive values is deeply enhanced by chant and song. Note that care should be taken to not drink water and sing at the same time as this could result in choking.
Feeling sluggish in the morning? Drink water and sing. Kids getting cranky? Drink water and sing. Stuck in traffic? Drink water and sing. Need more personal space on the subway? Drink water and sing loudly.
2) Make a Friend. Be a Friend. Keep a friend.
Happy campers know you can make a friend by being friendly, and when you make a friend you won’t feel as lonely. Smile. Introduce yourself. Look for commonalities. Express enthusiasm. Listen. Share your peanut butter.
Happy campers know you’re not always friends with everyone in your cabin all the time, but you still have to live together with some civility and courtesy. Learning how to repair fractures or disagreements in relationships is a valuable skill all folks benefit from, and happy campers learn how to do it in spades.
Some friendships don’t require constant tending—you can pick right up where you left off 20 years ago, duck-taping your sleeping counselor in her bed at midnight.* But some friendships and most relationships, really, benefit from communication and a continued commitment to the friendship. So, stay in touch. In lieu of a handmade friendship bracelet, consider a hand written note or card.
3) Mentors Make A Difference
The transition from childhood to adolescence is weird; things on the body pop out, drop, and leak.** It’s very helpful to have someone older and slightly more experienced break it down, especially when you admire them. Happy campers are inclined to continue taking advantage of mentoring relationships all their lives. They know that there is always someone with slightly more experience from whom to cull insight and advice. No matter your age, continue to look for and develop relationships with mentors.***
4) The Moral Compass
Religious, environmental, and other moral-minded themes introduced to young people at summer camp can be an influential source of strength and community throughout their lives. As a result, happy campers often develop or enhance a moral compass that informs how they live as adults. Happy campers report feeling more connected to humanity as a result of having a shared experience with a core group of people, and continue to seek out similar experiences as adults in the form of volunteer service, religious organizations, and other philanthropic endeavors—or maybe even just good old fashioned tree hugging.
An alum of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu California, says, "I learned how to hug people and trees at camp.” Certainly, the world would be a much better place if every kid spent a few weeks each summer learning how to hug people and trees. Consider that seeds planted in childhood continue to bear fruit well into adulthood.
5) Nurture Nature
Happy campers appreciate the natural world in a new, more meaningful way as a result of spending a significant amount of time in a natural environment. Happy campers continue to seek out and have aesthetic experiences in nature with other people. Never stop star gazing and please take 10 pieces of litter with you when you leave. Look for peace and beauty in the natural world, and protect it, too.
Teaching kids how to hug people and trees is pretty awesome; it’s that kumbaya kind of karma, ya’ll. If you’re not sending your own kids to camp this summer, consider making a donation to a summer camp program in your neck of the woods. Most summer camps provide scholarships and financing options for parents and guardians, so your support really can send a kid to camp. The Fresh Air Fund is also a good place to start.
*yes, that really happened. good times.
** in gathering quotes and themes for this shriver post, the menstruation issue was number one among female respondants. ladies who went to camp liked being able to get their womanhood on with other gals at camp-- that is to say, ladies repeatedly shared being thrilled that someone other then their mother could demystify the tampon.
***i'd like to thank "the rose" for being one of my mentors because there's nothing like stone-cold-data to help one make informed choices. a lady should have an excellent sociologist (in addition to an excellent dermatologist) on speed dial.