Why I’m thankful my parents sent me to summer camp

Jun 8, 2016 at 1:00 am
The Camp Bil-O-Wood waterfront in Blind River, Ontatio.
The Camp Bil-O-Wood waterfront in Blind River, Ontatio. Photo by Jack Roskopp.

Being sent away to summer camp was already written in the stars for me. My grandparents sent my dad to a co-ed summer camp in Blind River, Ontario, called Camp Bil-O-Wood. A small camp tucked into the Canadian wilderness, my dad spent every summer there for two months until he was a counselor in college, and some years after that, too.

I spent my first summer at Bil-O-Wood when I was 11. I had one friend I knew up there and I was going to be away from my parents and sister for an entire month. Yeah, that's right. An entire month. This wasn't just some one-week stint where I wouldn't even have enough time to break out of my shell. This was a whole month of living in a rustic cabin with 10 other boys and our college-aged counselors (looking back, they seemed so much older). So not only did I have to learn to live with complete strangers, but I had to learn how to deal with a crisis without having the comfort of my mom and dad to figure out my problems.

The summer camp bug hit me, and it hit me hard. I slowly turned into a two-month camper. (I know, people. Two freckin' months.) Once I hit my late high school/early college days, I turned into a junior counselor, assistant counselor, and then full-fledged counselor to a cabin of 12-year-old boys, and I was able to give back to a camp that gave me so much. So here are a few reasons why going to summer camp shaped my life and turned me into an independent, semi-functioning 20-something.

The biggest draw that keeps the campers at Bil-O-Wood coming back is their outdoor education program. Northern Ontario is known for its well-traveled lakes and rivers, and my camp uses that gift to teach not only outdoor skills, but independence and self-confidence. I can't tell you how many times I was on a canoe trip and I wanted nothing more than to go home and enjoy the comforts of air conditioning laziness. As I got older, the canoe trips grew in intensity, and so did my love/hate relationship for the trips. I hated the paddling, the portaging, collecting firewood — but the second we made it to our campsite, finished the portage, or had the fire started and burgers grilling, I was happy. I was proud of myself for accomplishing something instead of wasting my summers away at home. How many times in your childhood can you remember actually being genuinely proud of yourself? Feeling accomplished and having goals? It happened to me every day at summer camp.

I also learned a lot of communication skills during my time at camp. When you live in a small cabin and share this space with other people, communication and helping each other is a key element to succeeding as a functioning unit.

We had to help each other clean the cabin every morning, eat meals together, and participate in activities as a team. Sure, being in a school setting is very similar, and they teach you a lot of the same things, but when you're with the same people 24 hours a day for two months, you learn how to be an effective communicator. If my bunk mate wasn't respecting my space, I had to learn how I could communicate my wants and needs as well as respecting theirs. It's a unique experience for kids to learn, and prepared me when it was time to move into my freshman dorm in college. While all my friends from high school were nervous about living with a stranger for the first time, I thought it was a walk in the park.

Now, I know that I am extremely lucky and beyond privileged that my parents knew that it was a good idea to send me to sleep-away summer camp and could actually afford it. Summer camp is not cheap by any means, but I think my parents knew how beneficial it was to me when the most depressing part of my summer was the day that camp was finished. The friends that I met will last me a lifetime (I know this because my dad still hangs out with his buddies from camp), and the memories are some of the best ones I have.

It seems that every parent on social media writes about how they want to give their children the best childhood, a childhood better than their own. If you're reading this and that is the case, then send your kid to sleep-away camp. Even if it's for two weeks (Camp Bil-O-Wood offers that now too), your child will learn so much about themselves that it's insane. Plus, the blow that your child is leaving home for the first time when they go off to college will soften a bit — just ask my mom and dad.

For more information on Camp Bil-O-Wood, go to bil-o-wood.com, or visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/bilowood.