My son was 5 years old the first time he went to any type of camp. He had been in a home daycare setting but had never been to camp before.
We were moving to a new school district where kids started in French Immersion two years earlier than where we were currently living so I worried that he would be behind in his French skills. We made the decision to enroll him in a French Camp during March break to help build some basic French skills.
It was awful.
The kids spent an entire week indoors. No going outside at all. It was a fairly big group of kids all crammed into a few small rooms. My son is an outdoor, rough and tumble kid, so being crammed inside all day, sitting at tables for an entire week wasn’t for him. To top it all off, they spoke French all day, a language my son wasn’t entirely comfortable in.
On the final day of camp the kids did a presentation. I could see in my son’s face how uncomfortable he was. I couldn’t help but cry as I watched him work his way through his part in the presentation.
I beat myself up for putting him in the camp in the first place.
From that moment on any time we mentioned camp he didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
I had ruined camp for him. I felt like a failure.
It took us a few years before we could even revisit the idea of camp.
I researched different options around our city. I asked other parents for recommendations. I specifically searched out camps that I thought my kids would be interested in. Sports are my son’s passion so I thought that the perfect way to squash his fear of camp was to pick a good, reputable sports camp.
When I told him that I had signed him up, he wasn’t excited. He was disappointed and I was anxious.
I talked it up, kept reminding him of the cool things he’d get to do. I reminded him that his sister would be going to the same camp with him so he wouldn’t be alone.
Yet when the first day of camp came, we were both nervous.
Turns out those nerves were for nothing.
He met some great people and had amazing counsellors. He ran races and learned how to do high jump. He even got to meet some of the University’s football team! He was in his element.
From that moment on, camp was not a thing to fear.
Since then he's tried different camps: theatre camps, cooking camps, outdoor camps, you name it. While sports camps are by far his favourite, he's learned to appreciate the others.
I think back to that first experience and still beat myself up over it but I have also forgiven myself. It was a reputable, well known organization. It just wasn’t for him.
Most importantly, I learned from it. I learned that instead of trying to fit my round son into a square box, I should always look for camps that I know will meet his needs.
This summer has been our first summer filled with camp experiences and so far each one has introduced both my kids to something different. They’ve walked away with new friendships, new skills and a new independence.
As parents, sometimes our choices don’t work out for the best. But if you can forgive yourself, learn from your choice and move on then I think you’ve done ok.
Our family camp experience has done a complete 180. For that I have the camp counsellors and organizers to thank. They managed to turn my camp hating son around in a matter of days. And for that, I will always be thankful.