Kids' first camp experience can be scary and exciting - for both parents and the campers. But while the send-off is often the most emotional part, the opportunities that await are rewarding, exhilarating and often life-changing. For day and overnight campers alike, the memories and friendships made last long after the summer has passed. Here, five first-timers and their parents weigh in on their summer adventures and remind us just how incredible a new camp experience can be.
At home, Emily was looking forward to her first day camp experience. "I want to make new friends and I think I'm going to have a good time," she said. "It looks really fun." Having visited the camp with her mom, Lee-Ann Brinovec, she was ready for some serious adventure. "I'm going to go swimming, do nature walks, go canoeing and probably do some climbing," said the eight-year-old.
Her aunt and uncle suggested the camp and, although her cousin was planning to go, he would be in a younger age group. "But I'm sure I'll meet other kids my age," said Emily.
After a week, Emily was transformed into a summer camp enthusiast. Each day, she would come home telling stories about new people she had met and new activities she had tried. And, when her mom went to pick her up on the last day, Emily was busy giving everyone hugs goodbye.
Circle R Ranch: photo by Sue Bradman
"She had a blast," said Brinovec. "She really enjoyed the structure of the activities and now she wants to take all sorts of lessons during the year, even swimming, which she wasn't interested in before."
For Emily, going to summer camp for a week was a pretty big accomplishment. She loved playing Survival in the woods with her friend Nick and swimming with her swimming buddy Olivia. "They also had rock climbing and beach volleyball and a nature cabin," Emily said. "On the last night, there was a sleepover, but I didn't feel like staying away from home that night—maybe next year."
Preparing for a five-day overnight camp experience, Jacob was very excited and only a little bit anxious. He and his mom, Susan Markson, had read about space camp in this magazine and both knew it would be a perfect fit. "I love science and the mysteries of space," Jacob said a few weeks before heading to camp.
What he was looking forward to most was the realistic space mission that each camper would have an opportunity to participate in. "It's like an adventure in space but on the ground," he said. For the Grade 5 student, going away from home for a week was an exciting prospect. "I guess I'm a bit nervous... but I'm good about it. I'm pretty independent." For mom, the thought of saying goodbye to her son for a week was a bit more nerve-wracking. "He'll probably handle it better than I will," she said. "In going on his own to this kids camp, he'll have the opportunity to meet other people from all over Canada and it will be a great chance for him to focus on something he's really interested in."
Jacob and his parents celebrated his accomplishment—five days away from home in a different province with all sorts of new kids and experiences. "This camp offered a challenging and exciting opportunity that I think Jacob was really ready for," said Markson.
For Jacob, the best part (as he expected) was the space simulator. "It was basically a full-size replica of a space shuttle and each person had a different job to do," he said. "It was like a real flight and you got to go outside and do experiments and emergency drills and everything."
On the final day of camp, Jacob and his crew won the Silver Shuttle award for their hard work. When asked if he would return to summer camp next year, Jacob said "For sure."
Having just finished Grade 9, Angie was looking for something fun to do during her summer vacation. Since she was a young child, she had loved horses but had never had the opportunity to learn to ride. The decision to spend a week at Frontier Trails—a week away from home and away from her brothers and sisters—was something she was really looking forward to. "I'm excited and nervous at the same time," said Angie, who lives in Ottawa. "I'm a bit scared that the horse will go really fast and I'll fall off, but I've always wanted to ride."
Looking back on her camp experience, Angie only had positive things to say. "At first I was scared to get on the horse because it's seven feet tall," she said. "But once I tried it, I kept wanting to ride again and again because of how much fun it was." The horse she was paired up with was named Suzanne and the two formed quite a connection. "She was brown and her hair was a blondish-brunette colour," said Angie. "She had a very soft nose."
When she wasn't riding, Angie spent time playing games and sports and doing arts and crafts. "We also had free time at the beach to go paddle boating and canoeing and swimming," she said. "And we had a spa night where we did makeovers."
For Angie, this summer camp experience was an opportunity of a lifetime. She had no trouble making friends and before long she was completely comfortable horseback riding. "I won't have time to ride during the year so I'll have to wait until next summer when I'm back at camp, to ride again," she said. "I can't wait!"
For Grace, the opportunity to attend a 15-day overnight camp was something she had been looking forward to for months. When her mom, Shawna Rao, first suggested the idea, Grace's response caught her somewhat off-guard. "I just wanted to do a big challenge for myself," said the precocious seven-year-old. Because Grace is a twin and also has a younger sister, her mom thought day camp would be a perfect opportunity for her to strengthen her independence and identity. "At summer camp, she'll just be Grace—not Madison's twin or Maya's older sister," said Rao.
Though she didn't have the chance to attend as a child, Rao wants to encourage her kids to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. "That's what their dad and I always tell them," she said. "The world is their oyster."
Because her sisters weren't ready to go to summer camp, Grace promised to write them both letters telling them about her experience. "This will be the longest time I've been away from my family," said Grace. "But I'm really excited to do tennis and arts and crafts and horseback riding and canoeing and hiking."
After a summer full of activity, Grace was eager to share her fondest memories. "Being away from my sisters was a really good experience and I was really excited to see them when I got home," said Grace. "I think they'll come to camp with me next summer." Though she found herself feeling homesick some nights, her counsellor was really great and was always there to help her fall asleep. "And, I felt happy again in the morning," said Grace.
Her favourite activity was arts and crafts in which she made puppets and posters and caterpillars. She will also not likely forget when, after losing a tooth, she discovered $7 (one dollar for each year of her age) left under her pillow from the Tooth Fairy. Who would have guessed that the Tooth Fairy paid visits to camp?
"My mother could have never afforded this for me and I think it's such a fantastic opportunity," said Rao. She feels fortunate that she can send her children to a summer camp.
John had not been to overnight camp before. He was getting ready to go into Grade 9 and was planning, as usual, to spend the summer with his mom and his friends. But, when his mom, Anna Salvatori, got a new job that no longer gave her summers off, they both decided that camp would be a good option.
Camp U of T Mississauga: photo by Michael Stawicki
The three-week overnight session at Hurontario would give John the opportunity to feel as though he really accomplished something during the summer and would give his mom peace of mind in knowing that he was safe and busy.
"I hope that this camp will give him more independence and really help boost his self-esteem," said Salvatori, who did most of her summer camp research online before selecting Hurontario. "I chose an all-boys' camp because I felt the experience would be stronger."
For John, the opportunity to get away and try something new was appealing from the get-go. He was looking forward to bringing his guitar to camp and meeting other kids his age. "I'm a bit nervous about canoeing," he said. "I've never done it before and I think I prefer kayaking..."
John was eager to discuss his summer camp experience. Not only did he learn how to canoe, but found that he loved it. "My favourite part so far was going down some rapids on the canoe trip," he said.
"When I went to pick John up from camp, the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I want to come back next year'," said Anna Salvatori. "I love the effect camp had on him—he came back more self-assured, more confident and even a little more outgoing than he already was." With his new group of camp friends already added to Facebook, John is able to keep in touch regularly and begin planning for his next summer camp experience.
"I got along with pretty much everyone in my cabin and made friends in the other cabins as well," said John. The time away from home went by really quickly. "The best part of the summer was arriving at Lake Superior at the end of our canoe trip," he recalled. "After 12 days of paddling, we finally got to where we were supposed to be and we all ran and jumped in the water—though we were tired, it was a satisfied tired."