This year for the very first time my kids went to sleep away summer camp! After doing a ton of research and encouraging the girls that they could do this…we booked for a week at Ontario Pioneer Camp in Muskoka. This happened to fall smack-dab during a time when my husband would be away for business so for the first time in years my time would be my own!
Sweet mercy, the things I could do in a week alone! I had visions of dancing in my undies like Tom Cruise; shopping with NO time limit…and the chocolate, oh the chocolate I could actually leave on the counter, knowing it wouldn’t be “stolen” by little hands when I returned. Yes friends, I dream big after 11 years of parenting.
Back to the actual topic here…this was our first time at camp, not only because of my children’s hesitation about being away from home…but because of my own. I had a not-so-great sleep away camp experience as a child and it left me wiht reservations. I chose Ontario Pioneer Camp after hearing amazing things from friends whose children had spent weeks there and doing my own research.
This camp somehow felt different than many others I’d looked at. It’s a Christian camp which truly brings the love of God into their programming and programming. Everything they do is geared to helping children and youth grow spiritually, mentally, socially and physically surrounded by a FUN environment. They have an inclusive program which means that ALL children are included and becuase each chalet has a high leader:camper ratio, it allows them to modify programming for individuals as necessary.
So we packed up the girls and headed to Port Sydney which is in beautiful Muskoka, Ontario. My first drop-off was Chlesea, our 9 year old darling. Chelsea was going to Adventure Camp, which is tailored for boys and girls from ages 5-10. We arrived to find the place crawlling with excited little faces and counsellors directing us all through the registration process.
We first went through a lice check…I wanted to applaud, knowing there was less chance of having to deal with THAT grossosity when Chelsea got home. Then we moved onto the next station where we confirmed her registration, found out which “village” and chalet she was in and finally we stopped in at the nurses station to confirm her allergies or lack thereof. Once we were given the approval, we headed off with Chelsea’s gear to find where she would be camping.
Chelsea fell into the age group to camp in the Explorer Village, this is simply a brilliant way that OPC has created community. They split the camp into “Villages”, named them and foster a team/family like atmosphere throughout the week with village songs, gestures and sayings. The kids truly feel like they’re a part of a unit this way.
We found Chelsea’s chalet…I took one look at the open-air chalet and thought for sure she was going to balk at it. Nope, she just ran in with her counsellor and began setting up her bunk. The one thing I will say…thank goodness for bug nets! Never do camp without one here folks; they tack them to the ceiling or bunk above and the girls tuck them around their mattresses at night.
Once she was all tucked in, it was time the parents to leave and the kids to get on with the FUN! I stayed on for a day to be able to snap some photos for you all here but I will honestly tell you that me being there actually made it more difficult for Chelsea. She saw me at meal times in the dining room and although the atmosphere there was one that should have drawn her in…seeing me set off feelings of homesickness. Suffice it to say next time I’ll make a hasty exit with the other parents.
The dining hall is a massive room that simply pulses with the energy of the staff, volunteers and campers. It’s rowdy, loud and yet competely organized. Each meal has prayer, songs and nutritious food. There are often shows as well. The campers sit with their chalet-mates and leaders and the food is served family-style with serving platters being brought to the tables. Each table clears their own plates….do you hear that parents? Your kids are clearing their plates and helping to wipe the table.
Chelsea’s week was full of new experiences! She hasn’t stopped talking about them since she’s arrived home. She went for a “dip” at 7am each day, enjoyed Bible classes in the woods, learned sailing, made friends and yes she was homesick some of the time.
Her counsellor would take her for walks late at night, talk with her and just generally nurtured her through those feelings of sadness so that my girl could enjoy her time at OPC.
Her mama didn’t fare so well…within a few minutes driving down the highway I was in tears. All week I felt like I was on hold, waiting for my people to come home. It was a bizarre feeling, one that I wouldn’t have predicted and after a few days I couldn’t cope anymore so I phoned the camp to see how the kids were. The representative in the office was completely understanding. She reached out to each of my girls chalet counsellors and I had a full report back by phone very quickly. This helped me to relax and know the kids were doing well and experiencing new adventures.
Saturday arrived and my husband and I went to pick up the girls, this was the day I’d been waiting for!! When we arrived the campers were all on the main lawn playing games and singing songs. When Chelsea saw us, her face lit up in a smile and she came in for a hug…from her father! After swallowing that one…I grabbed her in a hug and began listening to a week’s worth of memories. First up was her telling us that next year she’s going to Girls Camp which is also at Ontario Pioneer Camp…where our other daughter Sydney spent the week. Chelsea will be old enough next summer and was making it VERY clear that she expects to go.
We spent time gathering her belongings and then headed into the dining room to enjoy the last day Celebration and of course the “graduation” of the kids who are old enough for Boys and Girls camps next year. When it was time to leave there were hugs, tears and exchanges of emails and phone numbers. These kids had truly bonded and hoped to see one another again.
Now that we’ve been home for a week and I’ve had the chance to hear all of Chelsea’s experiences and to reflect myself, I am so grateful for this camp experience for my family. Chelsea has become more independant and self-sufficient through it. She is now cleaning up after herself more often and has an awareness that she didn’t previously. She has matured in some ways…
I also see how the time in a God-centered program helped her to feel secure. The love and inclusion of the camp was evident while I was there and still is in how she speaks about her experiences. Thank you to all of the volunteers, counsellors and support staff at Ontario Pioneer Camp…thank you for the amazing memories, skills and knowledge my girl learned…we’ll see you next year!