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There is a Cow in the Tent

Stories and tips for Summer Camp

I knew I was in for it when the latrine caught on fire in the middle of the night.

It was my second assignment as a senior camp counselor. I was secretly hoping to lead horseback riding because horses are right in my sweet spot. I’ve been around them my whole life. Instead, the assignment board read: “Adventures in Camping” which was a three-week introductory course for 8-12 year-old girls who were brand new to summer camping. The camp basically let them try a little bit of everything, which was fun for them. For the counselors? Let’s just say I wasn’t the envy of my fellow counselors.

To be fair, I might have been a little overconfident. After all, I was a summer camp brat and to this day, I am so appreciative that my parents found a way to let me go as much as possible. Horseback riding camp, swimming camp, day camp, overnight camp, church camp – you add the word “camp” to the end of a noun and I was all over it. I loved the opportunity to be outdoors, to be active, to be free to explore. To me, everything was a new adventure.

And that’s the way I tried to look at this new assignment. But in all my years of being a camper and a counselor, this group of 30 middle-school girls takes the cake for mayhem. Talk about little camp of horrors. They accidently set the latrine on fire on the first night and they were just warming up. There were hair-pulling fights, unidentified sicknesses and someone caught poison ivy – OK that was me. One girl got lost on the 500-acre facility after she snuck out of her tent in the middle of the night. And there was that cow that woke us up in the morning by sticking her head into our tent.

I could go on and on because, even though it was a few years ago, I remember every last detail. And here’s why. Because even though much of the three weeks could have been considered a total mess, despite all the chaos and craziness, something magical happened. It always does at camp. The girls blossomed. They learned to be self-reliant. They learned to share with their team. They learned canoeing skills. They learned to groom a horse (I told you it was my sweet spot). They helped prepare meals and were responsible for daily chores. They were allowed to be creative and make mistakes. And in the end, they had fun, which I considered to be a total success.

Summer camps have changed – but the idea is still the same: to encourage children to grow, take chances and experience new things.

My parents always made sure I was ready for camp before they sent me off with my funny colored duffle bag and enough underwear and socks to last 100 years.

So in their honor, here are four safety tips to share with your kids before sending them off to summer camp.

  • Safety is safety, whether you are living in a house or a tent. Hot things are still hot. Knives are still sharp. Teach your children to be responsible for their own safety. Review our safety tips for swimming, boating and sports and share them with your camp-bound children.
  • Be sure to send your children with the appropriate clothing and gear. Camps will often send a required packing list. Follow it. The right gear will help your campers stay safe.
  • Weather safety is extremely important. Camp counselors are well-trained and well-attuned to weather conditions, but your children need to know how to help themselves if they get caught in a bad weather situation. Talk with your children about some summer weather safety tips, including the importance of staying hydrated.
  • Give your children a few first aid basics such as when to use a bandage, what a tick might look like, and how to spot poison ivy (I clearly can’t help too much with that one). Camp counselors can help but they need to be made aware when there is a minor first-aid issue.

After you’ve packed the bug spray and enough underwear and socks for 100 years, just relax. Summer camp is an adventure and your kids will love it.