Often, as parents, we joke about how it would be nice if children came with manuals. They don’t. We do our best to educate them. We provide a loving and nurturing environment, we show them the differences between right and wrong, we try to instill values and morals in hopes of cultivating happy and open-minded, kind and caring little citizens. Through exposure, we offer them every, and any, possible opportunity. We expose them to everything as we assist them with their search of themselves and their identity.
When I think back to all the activities I have involved my children in over the years, I can honestly say I left no stone unturned. Having a son and two daughters we enrolled our kids in dance, swimming, soccer, lacrosse, football, painting, pottery, baseball, softball, yoga, girl scouts, boy scouts, horseback riding, gymnastics, creative writing, guitar, tennis, piano, violin, archery, voice, percussion, cooking class, ice skating, chess club, and yes… even fencing!
Of all the things I have exposed my children to, I can say, without question, the single most valuable and enriching experience my children have ever had the opportunity to enjoy is… summer camp. There simply is no greater exposure for a child than summer camp. Summer camp gives children the chance to make new friends, make new decisions, play, learn, socialize and most importantly grow. You can find endless pages on the internet discussing the benefits of summer camp and even countless categories discussing those various benefits; psychological, educational, sense of leadership and belonging, self-esteem building, and environmental awareness. The list goes on and on. What other forum can a child find such learning, fun, and appreciation for life than summer camp?
I don’t think my children are different than most. They attend school without too much complaint. They come home and do their homework. They have a rhythm to their schedule and fulfill their responsibilities. They have pressure to achieve. They have pressure to compete. Our school systems themselves have tremendous pressure and competition. American schools currently rank 26th in Math and 21st in Science and 17th in reading (OECD 12/2013). Our education system is so entirely consumed with testing that much time is dedicated to preparation and memorization. There is little time for creative thinking and outdoor activity. Recess time in our district is limited to 20 minutes. Of that 20 minutes, some time is taken lining up to be released onto the playground and lining up to get back into the classroom. A child is lucky to have a solid 15 minutes of free, outdoor time during a typical school day. Long gone are the days when I was a child and good behavior of the class could earn you an extra afternoon recess. Maybe this is why when summer comes, homes explode with anticipation and excitement. Our home is transposed into an entirely different climate. Summertime!
But, what is happening outside of school? Between the internet, smartphones, video games, and social networking, today’s generation is constantly immersed in screens. It is not at all unusual to see a group of young people sitting together at a pizza place or yogurt shop each in their own little world, their young faces inches from the latest smartphone. It is estimated that young people spend between 40-51 hours a week in front of screens. This is a generation growing up with such a barrage of technology that new addictions have been outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders 5; “Internet Gaming Addictions”. Something has to be done to break the cycle.
This is where I would like to talk about my summers as a child.
This is where I would like to talk about how my children spend their summer.
Thirty years ago I spent my summers at the Thomas School of Horsemanship, in Melville Long Island. Now my children spend their summers atThomasSchool. It is an extraordinary day camp with a sleep-away camp feel. From the moment you step out of the car onto the 33 magical acres, your senses are set ablaze. For 70 years the family-owned camp has served children onLong Island, and their parents and even their parent’s parents. Families sometimes come from New York City and beyond to the lure of this beautiful place. The camp director, Nancy Thomas, is an extraordinary woman who has devoted her life to the love of children and horses. She spends her summer days immersed in campers’ activities. The Directors of the camp counselors are mothers or fathers themselves and personally see to the safety and happiness of each camper.
I have such fond memories that I can still name the horses I rode there as a child. I miss them the same way you might miss an old family pet. There is no other experience quite like that of grooming and riding a 1,000-pound gentle giant. The benefits of being around horses are so significant that physical therapists, occupational therapists, and psychotherapists use these magnificent creatures to help their patients. Horses teach us so many incredible things. Strength, communication, responsibility, bravery, patience, tolerance, discipline, cleanliness and they teach us to be calm, gentle and quiet too. For a child, there is nothing quite as empowering as controlling an animal that outweighs them 14 times.
My children count the days to the start of summer camp. They recall their favorite horses, friends, and camp activities over and over. During those blissful summer days, they leave the campus disappointed that the day is done. Yet, they burst through the door at the end of the day spewing accounts of the wonderful times they had. Anticipation wakes them the next morning, ready to do it all again. The last day of the camp season they are reduced to tears, deeply saddened that another summer has ended.
So if you’re considering a new activity for your child, by all means, consider the significance and worth of being around horses. And if by any chance, you haven’t sent your kids to camp you may want to reconsider.
There is simply no better experience we can provide for our children than sending them to summer camp. Camp enriches children’s lives beyond measure, altering not only the outcome of their childhood but, the outcome of their adulthood. How powerful is that?