Conrad the Contrarian: Why Summer Camp Will Give Your Kids a Backbone!

Oh, summer vacation. We can smell the cool sea air, feel the warm sand between our toes and taste the Hansens Flødeis on our lips.

Noah would have jumped
But summer can be two very different experiences for parents and those without children. At this time of year, as a father of two, I envy you childless people.

Sip mojitos and take selfies on the beach in your reclining loungers. For those without children, the summer holidays represent precisely that: a vacation. Holy days for working hard on your tan, having a drink during the day, and mastering your social media game.

For parents, we face the very real challenge of 43 days of children at home. It’s long. It’s longer than Noah spent on the Ark, but with the same level of peril.

Child on a burning tin roof
Thank goodness for sommerskole. I remember the joy in my mother’s eyes as she sent me away every summer when her nerves were finally on edge. Sure, it was in the UK, but the summer schools there are essentially the same: wild.

I remember being crammed into a hot bus and being driven for an eternity to a faraway “hub of activity”. Millions of kids with a summer vacation in their veins would be unleashed on housing. All the pent up frustration of months was sitting on desks, inside bedrooms and now, suddenly, parentless and truly free.

A lot of these camps seemed to still be abseiling. I have no idea when this skill will come in handy: maybe one day trapped in a burning building with 60 feet of spare rope, I’ll eat my own words. However, climbing up and down walls in the hot sun seemed like just what we all needed.

Like many children, I remember exuberant levels of fun throughout. All day out in the hot sun, blissfully sweaty and dehydrated, and then suddenly in a huge room with a buffet of food to fill our gurgling stomachs. We played until exhausted, ate until exhausted and somehow had the energy to make it to the dorm.

The dorms are really where the madness would set in. Without adult eyes, it quickly becomes something like “Lord of the Flies.” Only two groups will know this to be true: psychologists familiar with the “Robbers Cave” experiment of the 1950s and anyone who attended a summer school.

We attacked each other, issued challenges, ate random items we discovered earlier in the day, and generally did everything but sleep. That’s the magic of summer school: somehow burning 5,000 calories a day, staying up all night, and going wild the next day.

Crushed, but not flabby
I remember the smell of our dorm. Initially it was sweat and dirty clothes, but one day I found a large piece of spine randomly on the beach and smuggled it back into my bag. It stank a bit, but only the staff ever complained about “The Stench”. We children were just happy to be there.

Then somehow it would all come to a quick stop and we would be sent home on that hot bus to a collection point.

Scruffy and dirty, with shoes full of sand, our loving parents would always want us to come back. Once back at home, our mothers opened our bags to discover that half of our clothes were missing, someone else’s underpants… and a spine.

As a parent looking back on those long hot summers, I better understand my mother’s joy. She loved me but she also knew that those 40 plus days was enough to send anyone bananas.

Better to opt for limes, as I’m sure she did on a deckchair in our garden, drinking mojitos.

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