It can’t possibly be that time of year again already can it? My email inbox is full of invitations to camp fairs and summer program expos. It’s -12 outside people! Summer Camp? It’s hard to believe we are going to get to the other side of this ‘armageddon’ of a winter, let alone be planning for summer. But plan for it we must.
Ahh yes, the long summer break. A break from the morning and after school routines, long lazy breakfasts in PJ’s, un-timetabled afternoons in the sunshine, a relief from strict evening homework rituals.
Rewind! Did I just say ‘break’? My goodness, how the memory fades. I give myself 3 days, maybe a week of enjoyment before I am pulling my hair out looking for things to amuse them, and wishing fruitlessly for some type of normality. It is for this reason entirely that I am a huge advocate for summer camp. Not usually the whole eight weeks, but one session of three weeks or so. It gives a lovely balance of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. The problem is, in my family, we have reached a cross roads. My teenagers are bored of their camp. They have reached a stage where the program is all too familiar, but they are not ready yet to become junior counsellors.
So began my mission to inspire them. To give them something to look forward to, and to work towards. And by golly, I think I’ve found it! Did you even know there were international summer camps? I’m not talking teen trips here, designed for 16-19 year olds, I’m talking actual camps for 12-16 year olds, where my kids can have a sense of place and familiarity. Where they can get all the benefits of camp, such as cabin mates, mess halls and activity instruction, but in a whole other country, learning new cultures and making worldwide friends.
I am on a mission now. Google is getting a work out and a half, as I make my way around the globe looking for camps. As I am doing it, I am coming to realise that this all makes perfect sense. Some of the most prestigious educational facilities in the world have been on to this ‘adolescent year’ for a very long time. The year when a young teen experiences their second surge of brain development (the last one was early child hood). These schools are applying the ‘Use it or lose it’ principle. If a teen is doing music, sports, or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hard-wired. If they are lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going [to] survive.- J. Geidd, 2005 Neuroscientist, National Institute of Mental Health.
12-15 year old students are at a critical stage of brain development. The experiences or activities these students are exposed to will significantly influence their future outlook and attitudes. Schools choose a year, most often grade nine, and remove the students from the rest of the school population. They go off to a whole other campus, often in the wilderness, to learn about themselves, their environment and their abilities to take risks at a time when conventional learning just doesn’t register the same way in their brain.
That’s what I’m looking for now. An ‘off campus’ summer. Something that excites and inspires the kids to get out there and ‘do’, and has them showing enthusiasm. It’s a minor miracle really. We sit together in the evenings, pouring over international summer camp websites
, and animatedly talking through possible scenarios. Once we have a program locked down, we will share more time bonding over travel plans, packing lists and passports. The week before they leave will be spent buying last minute necessities at the mall together.
My kids will be getting their independence, and have that awesome feeling that they are trusted to make this leap. We will Facebook and Skype while they are away, and we will talk about their experiences for years to come.
This excerpt used with permission by Aussie Summer Camps