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Understanding four-week camp

Greetings from Hilltop. It’s another beautiful day on Orcas. You’d think I’d get sick of saying that, but each glorious summer day seems better than the last.

I write quite a bit in these blogs about the rhythms and benefits of a four-week session. I hope you’re all not getting sick of it. I do it because I believe strongly in it, because it’s hard to explain, and therefore I think often poorly understood. As you know, I post daily during the session on Twitter. That has the unfortunate side effect of me occasionally getting distracted by something else there. Yesterday, I saw a camp director friend of mine replying to a national figure asking the question:

I made the mistake of looking through some of the 200 replies. My camp director friend’s response was thoughtful, but he was in the minority. Most fell into two categories: 1) Can I send my toddler? And 2) Never. Childhood is too short. I don’t want to miss seven weeks.

Now, seven weeks is a long time, and we don’t do seven weeks at Four Winds. It’s much more of a New England or Upper Midwest thing. I prefer four weeks to seven, but I know we have a lot more in common with seven-week camps than we do with one-week camps or no camp at all, so let’s replace “7 week” in the question with “long term.”

Neither the toddler-senders nor the never-senders get it. The former, at least, is probably kidding. To the latter, I want to gently say, “This is hard, but you getting to observe your child’s childhood isn’t the point of parenting. The goal of parenting should be to raise independent adults who are good friends, family members, and citizens. To do that, a child needs to learn the skill of being away from home and loved ones. The best way to learn is to practice.”

Four Winds parents know that. It’s why I usually end these blog posts with “Thank you for sharing your children with us.” A very wise Four Winds parent once commented to me that Four Winds was the first thing in his kids’ lives that was theirs, separate from the family. I know that’s bittersweet, and sometimes even painful for parents, but it’s exactly what kids need. So, again, thank you.

Which brings me to today, our second Sunday of Second Session, and roughly the midway point for these campers. It’s a funny time in the session, neither the beginning nor the end. I’m reminded of a ball thrown into the air. There’s that moment at the apex when the ball is hanging. That’s how camp feels right now. It’s a crucial time. A big part of the magic of a four-week session is being fully present, focusing on the here and now, not worrying about all the cares of the outside world. To do that, most of us need to be able to take our focus away from transitioning from the last thing to the present situation (as we must at the beginning) or focus on what’s happening next (as is natural at the end).

Now is that time when kids can lose themselves in the present. It may not have the excitement of the beginning or the emotional intensity of the end, but it’s a critical part of what makes a Four Winds experience so great.

Like all stages of camp, this one is fleeting. Soon, on Thursday, the seniors will leave on their six-day trips. For them, it will be a significant adventure, and they’re filled with both apprehension and excitement, as one should before any adventure. For the juniors and intermediates left in camp, there will be a different feel to camp with the seniors gone, and special activities we reserve for just that time. All of that will fly by. Before we know it, the Seniors will be back, and we’ll be rolling into the four evening activities with which we end every session.

I often find myself wanting to nudge the campers into that feeling of the last week because it is when camp feels at its best. But it’s still too early for that. For now, we should be basking in the warm summer days, deepening our friendships, sailing, making art, riding horses, playing sports, or learning about the garden. We’re exactly where we should be, and we shouldn’t yearn for anything else.

Thank you once again for sharing your children with us. Until next week, be sure do follow those daily updates on Twitter (and I’ll do my best not to look at any comment threads).