As a parent of three - very different - children I have always struggled with where to send my kids for summer camp. One day, while searching for a great camp for my son, I realized that I was looking for a camp that I would love, and not necessarily one that he would love. Here is the story of that revelation.
So my son, Cameron was 7 years old when I decided he would really enjoy a sleep-away camp at a nearby nature preserve called the "Corbit Center." I had been there camping before and it was primitive, yet alive with water sport activities, hiking, archery, and tons of outdoorsy things. We signed him up and he attended - but not without a fight.
Midway through the week his counselor called me and said Cameron was complaining of blurred vision and headaches - related to "getting dirt in his eye." Because the camp was only about 40 minutes from our home, I made the drive out to check on him. It was clear he was miserable and just wanted to go home. In my estimation, he was simply too young for a sleep-away camp.
Fast forward to when he is 10 years old and again, I sign him up for a sleep-away camp, this time several hours away from our home. With much trepidation, he attended. The camp featured all of the standard sleep-away camp amenities - water-sports, games, archery, etc. and it even included something Cameron had expressed a great deal of interest in - when he was younger - horseback riding.
As I was driving away from the camp I convinced myself that "Cameron is really going to love this camp." He didn't. To his credit he did stay the entire week, and we didn't get a phone call from anyone. To my discredit, he was not a happy camper and stated, "I'm never going back there."
For the next five years Cameron attended the same sports camp every summer, nearly every week. When I picked him up from camp every day, it was a struggle to get him to leave. He wanted to stay and play, often challenging me to play with him - ping-pong or basketball. Each year, as I was planning his summer camp, I would ask him, "Aren't you tired of that camp?" He would always answer "no!"
The lesson for me is that camp needs to be about what our children love, and not about what we want our children to love. If we simply enroll our children blindly into camps that we "think" they will enjoy, without their input we are doomed to experience frustrated and unhappy campers.