In his 2012 book Homesick and Happy, one of the first things author Michael Thompson does is outline what parents cannot give their children.  Despite our most desperate efforts, we cannot make our children happy, give our children high self-esteem, make friends for our children or make our children independent.

For most of us, those realities are not always easy to accept. We want the best for our children and fear the worst.  We want a guarantee that our vigilant parenting will make all the right things happen.  One of the problems, according to Thompson, is that our vigilance can sometimes do more harm than good. We inadvertently rob our children of the opportunities to accomplish these life tasks by keeping them close, smoothing their way and protecting them from the struggle.

Michael Thompson believes that the struggle is important and that protecting children from failure also means robbing them of the triumph of overcoming adversity.  Michael Thompson also believes in the “magic of camp” because it is a safe and supportive environment where children can accomplish life tasks away from the watchful – and anxious – eyes of parents.  Camp provides opportunities for creativity and self expression, independence and identity, teamwork and leadership, and above all, friendship and social skills.   At the heart of the camp magic, Thompson believes, lies the relationship between the counselors and the campers.  In fact, the author believes that the power of this relationship can be life changing for campers and counselors alike.

If you are a parent who has experienced camp or enrolled your child for the upcoming summer, chances are you already believe in the enriching potential of a camp experience.  What makes Thompsons book worthwhile even for “converts,” is his research on how camp works its magic.  Thompson points to experiences that run the gamut; from the activities to the communal meals to the shared responsibility of cabin cleaning to the electronic freedom, all contribute to enhancing the independence, responsibility and self esteem of campers.  Especially noteworthy is Thompson’s research on homesickness.  Chapters three and four are titled: “A Fire in My Stomach,” and “Homesick and Happy” respectively and they outline the fearful misery that is acute homesickness as well as the sense of accomplishment and even triumph that stem from overcoming it.  In these chapters lie tips for both parents and camp directors that we can use to better help children through this sometimes rocky, but always important journey.

Reviewed by Kathy Neilsen, Co-Director, Brown Ledge Camp