Where I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, it was commonplace for children to spend eight weeks each summer at overnight camp.
From the age of six through 16 (or so), many of my contemporaries were ensconced in camps across New England, each perched on a lake.
Some may think sending children away for that long at such young ages is slightly barbaric, but to me and many of my friends, summer camp was a given—for better or for worse. Some kids hated it, but not me. I loved it all, and learned so much about getting along in the world.
Here are 12 life lessons from summer camp:
1. Listen to your mother
Mosquitos are big and nasty during the humid summer months. Even worse when you’re near a lake. So do like your mother says—spray on the spray.
2. Find a mentor
There was an unspoken agreement that the older kids would find a younger kid to take under their wing. It made the young girls feel special and the older girls feel important.
3. Try everything once
From horseback riding to canoeing, the activities were varied and plentiful at camp. It would be have been easier to stick with what I knew—in my case, tennis—but it’s a lot more fun and interesting to try everything, at least once.
4. Avoid being a mean girl
Everyone knows it’s better to be nice, but that was especially true at camp, with the bouts of homesickness and loneliness that some girls experienced. There was always a mean girl (there always is), but it’s better if it’s not you, or me. So just be nice to people.
5. Share your stuff
Care packages and secret stashes of candy were highly valued among the campers, as the food at camp tended to be somewhat—awful. If you share your stuff, others will share with you.
6. Take a shower
With all the swimming in the lake, it was easy to forget to take a shower at camp. But really, it’s always a good idea to take a shower now and then.
7. Walk in the rain
Nothing was as refreshing and sweet as walking in the rain at camp. It didn’t matter if you got wet or dirty—that’s what camp is for. I can still hear the sound of the rain on the pine trees and birch trees. It was magical.
8. Eat breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially at camp where you can always have cereal and fruit. Then the rest of the meals, even if they’re awful, won’t be as big of a deal. Start out well fed and the rest of the day will go better.
9. Cry sometimes
Every year after parent’s visiting day I would get extremely homesick. I would cry a lot. The mean girl in my cabin would tease me. But I didn’t care. I missed my parents. It’s OK to cry if you’re sad.
10. Stop and watch something amazing
At night, fireflies would light up around us as we sat watching the stars and singing camp songs. They were amazing. Stop and watch the fireflies—or the butterflies—or whatever amazes you.
11. Sing when you want to
Camp involved a lot of singing. After each meal, every evening, all day long, there was singing. Some could sing well, some not so much—but it didn’t matter at all. Everyone sang, and it was fun.
12. Suspend reality for a while
Campers got to do it for eight weeks—escape from reality and live in a little world of our own. Everyone should do it now and then, even if for only a few minutes. Suspend your reality and close your eyes—the fireflies are waiting.
Sharon Greenthal blogs about her observations of the world around her, from the important to the inconsequential at Empty House, Full Mind. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most blog.