August 12, 2014 at 9:51 AM
Three Cheers for South Orange Camp
I grew up in Ohio, and the summers where I lived were blissfully peaceful and highly unstructured. I didn’t live on a farm or even on more than a single acre, but our back yard had a creek that ran through it, and it provided me with endless hours of discovery and experimentation. Sometimes with a friend or two, I chased snakes, watched tadpoles grow legs, tried to make sculptures out of clay, and just poked around. The days passed quickly, and the only time I remember being bored is when it rained, and I had to make forts all day long in our dim, musty basement instead.
When I moved to New Jersey, I was nervous about my kids having summers that were too organized. I credit Ohio summers with making me a more creative, nature-loving, self-reliant person. When I explored options around town, I was interested in South Orange Camp. A few friends and neighbors had “warned” me that it was pretty bare bones, but that only heightened its appeal to me. I was encouraged when counselors met my kids in the morning, digging around in the dirt with sticks, and crouched down to dig around with them.
This summer my daughter has kept me posted on all the action going on in their group’s “store” beneath the sycamore trees. They use broken crayons to color stones and sticks and then sell them to the counselors and other campers. The money is helicopters (seed pods) that fall from trees. For the past few weeks, the sycamore trees have been shedding their bark, and the kids have gathered the bark and made that an item available for purchase too.
Though the camp does include some bells and whistles like swimming, art class, and Tae Kwon Do, there is no shortage of time to hang out and amble around. Last Friday, when I picked up my daughter from camp, she asked if we could come back to the camp site over the weekend so that she could get the store tidied up. “There was just too much going on today, Mom- I need to get the store back in order.”
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