It was the end of October on a dark and scary night. I was 9 years old, 4th grade, and this was my first camp experience. Following 100 other boys in a ribbon of light snaking up the hill, I was on my first flashlight hike, jittery scared, with a touch of bravado, just like everyone else. The protective beam of my light fell on bones – the horse graveyard! The brave ones snuck a horse tooth into their pocket as a souvenir. I didn’t. My heart was pounding. I was glad to get back to my cabin alive. The coyote calls kept me up for hours.
I loved it.
The next day we got to do archery. My counselor took a $1 bill and put it on the target, and whoever shot it first got to keep it. I got it. At the slingshot range, he put coins on the cans so if you got a solid hit and knocked the coin off, you get to keep it.
We had a big campfire and sang songs, did skits, and listened to stories. I was lonely, homesick, and scared. I had a bloody nose and wet my bed. It was the best weekend of my life. I returned every year. It is still fresh in my mind 50 years later.
I started working at that very same camp when I was 13 years old. I was part of a team and my boss depended on me. I gave kids bareback burro rides – the first time I was given any real responsibility with risk attached to it.
During college, I returned as the Nature Instructor, leading hikes, teaching lessons, maintaining a nature center with wild and domestic animals…a position that came with the title “Pop Nature.” That is the title I still hold dear.
I’ve had many jobs in my life. Pest control. Vet tech. Pastor. Naturalist. Handyman. Teacher. Consultant. But for the last 15 years I have been reviving the facility at Camp Ocean Pines, training staff how to bring the phenomenon of CAMP into the lives of kids. Why? Camp has deeply affected the very fabric of MY life. It MAY have changed you. It WILL change your kids.
Nature, independence, tenacity, boredom, accomplishment, peer relationships, bows and arrows – these are not just concepts or activities – they are the building blocks of character your child needs. Kids just don’t get to use flashlights enough. In your effort to give your kids everything, make sure you give them enough “gaps” – time and opportunity for them to work through homesickness, to achieve on their own, and to grow into the amazing humans they are.
This happens at camps everywhere (but it happens really well at Camp Ocean Pines). Spread the word and sign up now – the biggest discount ends in a couple of days. See you this summer.
Chris Cameron “Pop Nature”
Executive Director, Camp Ocean Pines