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Life Skills Learned at Camp

Fish-Dr. Emily “Fish” Andrada is serving as our Camp Doctor this session for her 10th summer. When “Fish” isn’t spending her time at GAC, she works as a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Attending Physician at the UC Davis Medical Center, where she trains emergency medicine, pediatric, and family medicine residents and teaches medical students at the bedside and in formal didactics. She wrote this article for our 2016 On Target magazine.

My friend (I’ll call her Ann) is very accomplished.  She was valedictorian of her high school, finished her undergraduate degree in three years with a full ride scholarship, and then graduated first in her class in medical school.  She completed a highly competitive residency program in general surgery and during that time won the “best resident award.” Finally she moved to a well-known northeastern city to complete her sub-specialization at a prestigious fellowship program.

While incredibly accomplished, getting to know her personally revealed a number of entertaining facts.  Ann got driven to and picked up at the hospital every day by one of her parents (she was in her early twenties in medical school).  She was often in wrinkled scrubs, carrying around her belongings in a plastic grocery store bag.  When she moved to the east coast, her mother moved with her “to get her settled in,” but that turned into a four-month stay, because Ann’s mother still made her dinner, cleaned her apartment, and laundered and ironed her clothes.  Three months into fellowship, Ann (and her mother) still did not have a bed to sleep on because she had not figured out how to get out to a big box store in the suburbs.   You might think, “Yes, that mother has made many sacrifices and as a result her child has been a raving success!”  True.  Ann is having great success in her career, but she has failed to develop basic life skills…and THAT is what camp is all about.

how-to-raise-an-adult-photo__1_My three kids and I have been coming to camp for nine years, and while they “have fun, make friends, and grow,” I believe that the most important thing that they gain from camp is a belief in themselves and their own abilities.  Most importantly, their eyes are opened to the fact that they don’t need their parents around to help them with tasks or to complete tasks for them.   My kids hate when I read parenting books, but I’ve found a good one called How To Raise An Adult.  The author, Julie Lythcott-Haims (a former freshman dean at Stanford), along with parents and educators, compiled a list of practical life skills that kids need before being launched into the world:

• Talk to strangers

• Find your way around

• Manage assignments, workload, and deadlines

• Contribute to the running of a household

• Handle interpersonal problems

• Cope with ups and downs

• Earn and manage money

• Take risks

From my little perch in the Wellness Center and during quick meals on the dining porch, I can tell you with no uncertainty that campers at camp practice ALL of those skills.  On the surface, camp offers sailing, horseback riding, high ropes, hiking and a bazillion other activities.  But in its beautifully subversive way, camp has provided our kids with a multitude of opportunities to master every single one of the life skills that will help them survive once they leave our home. I’ve observed campers meeting new kids and counselors, figuring out the layout of camp, earning special privileges by attending early morning activities, assisting in the upkeep of the cabin, working out disagreements amongst themselves, talking about their feelings, managing purchases in the camp store, and trying lots of new activities.

Each year after camp (after I have seen first-hand that my kids can function just fine without me), it’s much easier to let go—to let them manage their school work, make their own lunches, feel the burn of being late to school because they did not get up in time, and choose the extracurricular activities that they love.  This year was my daughter’s last year as a camper, and while it is bittersweet, she is ready…camp has made her ready.  Thankfully my boys have several more years!

I wish you all a great year and hope to see lots of old and new friends at camp next summer!

Resources/Related:
How Camp Helps Raise Adults,
How to Raise an Adult website
Ready for Adulthood Checklist, Sunshine Parenting
Five Reasons Great Parents Send their Kids to Camp
10 Social Skills Kids Learn at Camp
Five 21st Century Skills Developed at Camp

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