Twenty Things I Learned at Camp

I think this makes 40 years or so that I’ve been running summer performing arts camp for kids and when the little rascals leave after the final camp session I often ask myself who’s learned the most. Camping has become easier over the years as we’ve moved from lumpy-floored tents to air conditioned dormitories, but a few pithy lessons have held true over the years. Such as. . .

1. Size matters. I can still keep up with teenagers but the elementary school kids never seem to run out of battery.

2. Ranch dressing may be the greatest things that happened to Christian camps since the resurrection. Used to be the salad was avoided like Pharaoh’s plagues but if they can slather on the Ranch they’ll even eat the napkins.

3. You can endure anything at camp as long as you have a friend beside you.

4. When picking song leaders, aim for the Methodists or Presbyterian counselors. A normal-sized Pentecostal hymn may take half the evening.

5. Stash your religious customs in the nearest drawer. After a lifetime of hearing prayers begin with “Dear Father,” and “Precious Lord,” you ‘ve got to prepare yourself for openings like, “Wow Lord!” and “Hey God!” While I was initially shocked, I could swear I heard God chuckle.

6. Wear sturdy jeans. When you’re sitting around an after-dark campfire and a Morgan County coyote decides to start howling in the neighboring timber your legs will be clawed by the nearest fifth-grader.

7. Any child who actually likes snakes should be banned from all camping activities. No, I do not want to pet that black snake.

8. Helmets should be mandatory equipment when showing youngsters how to fish. It’s remarkable that after forty years I still have two ears.

9. You would not believe how many junior high boys talk in their sleep.

10. No camper alive can sleep late with a bagpipe wailing at the foot of his bed.

11. It’s impossible to sleep within a half mile of youngsters who’ve dosed themselves with bug spray. See the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt shower at night.”

12. Seat a little girl at the dinner table with her girlfriends and she’ll eat with hungry abandon. Sit just one boy at the table and she’ll suddenly lose her appetite.

13. If you want a trouble-free camp, schedule as little free time as possible. Busy kids are good kids.

14. Ban swimming. The old “alligators in the pond” works until they’re about 12 years old. Then move to snake tales.

15. The best place to keep the fishing worms is in the fridge but don’t forget to tell the cooks.

16. If you pack your camp days with up-and-at-‘em activities, getting kids quiet after lights out is no problem. The trick is for the camp director to stay awake that long.

17. A tired fifth-grader can stare at a hotdog for an hour without moving.

18. Spend all the time you want making delicious homemade cookies. They’ll grab the Oreos first.

19. If their newly formed musical combo consist of a guitar, banjo, flute, mandolin, trumpet and drums, encourage them all to play the same song.

20. If you ask them to put their cell phones away for the duration of camp many will actually be relieved. However, you run the risk of being strangled by their mothers.

Bottom line: it’s been delightful to learn that kids are still kids and we’re blessed to live in a community and atmosphere where they can be just that. Pulling a bass out of a pond, running barefoot through wet grass, and singing songs around a campfire are every bit as thrilling as these activities were to Grandpa. And somewhere . . . I pray . . . God is smiling just as broadly.

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About the author

Ken Bradbury is an adjunct instructor of theatre at LLLC after retiring from Triopia. He entertains on the Spirit of Peoria riverboat and is the author of over 300 published plays. Website:

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