8 Life Skills Every Southerner Learned at Camp

From a bunch of camp kids themselves.

Parent Trap Twins at Camp
Photo: United Archives/Getty Images

For some Southern kids, summertime means hitting the road for family vacations. Others head to all-star sports programs. Some like to knock out that summer reading list or can't wait for swim team practices every day. And then there are the camp kids. What they don't tell parents about sending their children to camp in the summer is that camp kids eventually become camp kid adults, and we all know them. If you've never heard a camp kid adult wax poetic about his or her time spent at summer camp, are you even from the South? I write this with the privilege of being a camp kid. Once the summer camp bug bit me, I had to go back, and I was lucky enough that my parents financially and emotionally supported it. Grown-up camp kids are everywhere, y'all, just waiting for the next person to ask them if, when, and where they went to summer camp so they can spin a yarn about the time they won the water skiing competition or asked someone to dance at the rec hall. Many of them credit summer camp with teaching life lessons and responsibilities that they carried into adulthood (Who hasn't used a camp anecdote in a job interview?). Though I'm writing from personal experience, I also sought the wisdom of the other Southern Living camp kids, of which there are plenty. We all went to different Southern camps with different people and activities, and yet, every single person echoed the same messages. Those counselors must've done something right.

How to Write and Address a Handwritten Letter

I can only imagine how much more prevalent this lesson is now than when we were kids. Sending and receiving mail felt decidedly grown-up, not to mention we had to learn how to actually address envelopes and write letters properly, including a formal greeting and signature at the end. Remembering how to use the written word, sans emojis, to describe what you've been up to and how you feel is so important. Camp mail definitely prepared us for our futures in expert thank-you note writing, too.

How to Clean Up After Yourself

Does the word "inspection" make you stand up a little straighter? You just might be a camp kid. Sure, parents teach their children to clean their rooms at home. But there's not an entire cabin of kids depending on each other to get the place spotless for camp perks. I guarantee any child that goes to camp will return knowing how to make up their bed (without any sloppy corners!), sweep, dust, and more. Not only is this amazing news for the parents out there, but it's also comforting to know camp kids won't be messy roommates in the future. The cabins weren't the only thing that had to be spick and span, though: No one would dare leave their dishes behind on a table at the cafeteria or a stray ice cream cone wrapper at the canteen. No one.

Packing and Preparedness

Do you consistently over-or under-pack before trips? You probably weren't a camp kid. When you're going away for weeks at a time without much room for extraneous items and clothing, you have to be organized. And that's just the half of it. Once you actually arrive at camp, you need to utilize what you did bring in a smart manner. Laundry doesn't go out every day, y'all, and you don't want to be caught going to horseback without a clean pair of jeans to wear. Don't forget your red, white, and blue Fourth of July outfit, though! There's always room for that.

Social and Communicative Skills

It's not surprising that Southern Living editors are pretty good communicators (sometimes too good during office hours), but it was really endearing how many of them attributed that to growing up with summer camp. Part of the camp experience is making new friends from different places, and in order to do that, you have to speak up sometimes. Plenty of camp scenarios are just mini real-world social situations. The communication skills you absorb there are often tied to being adaptable and flexible. Summer camp is consistently a group thing, and it's great to have realistic expectations of working, playing, and socializing in a group. As one editor said, "It's not all about you!"

The Importance of Timeliness

While we're on the topic of group activities, it's important to mention that those are on a schedule. You wake up at the same time every morning and have a plan for the day. There's no snoozing the camp-wide alarm. However, there's usually free time (and opportunities for independence) built into those rigid schedules, and camp kids understand the meaning of "time management" quickly with that freedom. Campers that master the importance of timeliness at a young age so as not to miss out on activities turn into adults who don't miss out on them, either.

Appreciation for Nature

This lesson was one that I wouldn't have listed had my fellow staffers not brought it up. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much it rings true. I'm not sure the exact percentages, but I'm willing to guess that camp kids spend the majority of their time outside during the summer. I knew I was fortunate enough to make lifelong friends and memories at camp, but looking back, I see how incredible it is that I got to know nature through camp. Not only did I spend almost all my time outdoors being active, but I learned about native plants and animals, was taught to respect wildlife, and went on excursions to waterfalls and mountain ranges. I might not appreciate the wonder of those things now if it weren't for camp.

Maintaining Long-Distance Friendships

Aside from the occasional vacation friend from the beach that they probably won't see again, kids don't have tons of opportunities to make friends that don't live in the same geographic area as them (excluding the Internet…I'm not even going to try to go there). It's pretty special to watch your child become friends with kids from other cities and states and then maintain those relationships through high school, college, and well into adulthood. It's all too easy to let adult friendships slide with distance, but camp kids know the impact of keeping them close.

A Sense of Independence

This one really encompasses all of the above lessons. A child isn't going to get the confidence to be independent if they're not given the chance to. Summer camp offers a safe environment to build self-reliance and a passion for new experiences. Campers become dedicated to achieving goals and gain the ability to make new friends they wouldn't otherwise. Camp kids are given real responsibilities that are taken seriously. It's an opportunity to be "on their own" before they truly have to be on their own.

I know that being a camp kid is an immense privilege. As an adult, it's amazing to reminisce on camp memories only to realize that so many of the skills and strengths I use today were learned there. It's not often I go to an event or visit a town where a familiar face isn't present because of camp connections. If you made it this far, you're probably a camp kid, too, and I'm really glad I got all that out of my system so my husband (a sports camp kid; he doesn't get it y'all) didn't have to hear it.

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