A Day in the Life of a Summer Camper

There’s no such thing as a “typical” day at camp. As the following vignettes from seven very different summer programs attest, every camp is unique.

That’s why it’s so important for parents to carefully research available programs and to match their children with the ones that are best suited to specific personalities and interests. Each of these descriptions, written by a camp insider, offers a glimpse of what really happens at camp.

Camp Talisman

Black Mountain, NC


Rise and shine! Today our group is going rafting. As the day begins, you gather your supplies. Need reminders? Don’t worry your group of four staff and eight campers will help you out.

We complete our chores and come to Morning Group. After everyone’s had a chance to discuss issues, get organized and set morning goals, we head for breakfast. Rumor has it that Aaron will be awarding some points in the Good Manners contest this week. Will your group win the famous “Golden Spork” this time?

At the river, you’re a little nervous, but the staff has taken care of you so far, so why wouldn’t they now? It turns out to be loads of fun. Heck, you even enjoy the discussion afterwards. At first, you couldn’t believe it when your staff compared rafting to being in school. But now you see their point. There are times when a school day can be a bumpy ride. But, like rafting, if you concentrate and communicate, you can get along pretty well.

What a trip! After showers and your favorite dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, we review goals at Evening Group. Your staff congratulates you on fulfilling your goal. Everyone takes turns naming their “Proud, Positive, and Learned” highlights for the day. Later, at Grand Council, the director’s story by the campfire makes you laugh. As you think about the best parts of your day, you realize that exhausted from everything you’ve done today. You drift to sleep with visions of tree climbing, swimming and the Disco Dance tomorrow.

The All-Arts & Sciences Camp

Greensboro, NC


Dear Mom, Dad and Janie,

Lights-out is in 10 minutes so I’m writing as fast as I can. Today was probably the best day of camp so far. We got up at 7 a.m., showered, dressed and waited for the elevator for a few minutes before Scott, our counselor, decided he’d rather take the stairs. We were one of the first colonies to get to the cafeteria, so we didn’t have to wait in line for breakfast. I had waffles and scrambled eggs. Joey spilled orange juice all over the table … again.

When we got to Charlie (that’s what they call our meeting place), we sat next to a girl colony and two of the girls came over and asked me to dance with them at the dance tonight! We dissected a dogfish in Marine Biology. It smelled gross, but it was cool. During colony time after lunch, we worked on our skit for the talent show. I’m playing Einstein’s father.

I got to use the wheel in my afternoon pottery class. It was harder to keep it centered than I thought it would be, but I made a nice pot. We swam during our first rec period, we played flag football after dinner, and then we went back to the dorm to get ready for the dance. I wore the new shirt you bought me and used some of Scott’s cologne. The DJ had a video wall, and I danced with Mary Beth and the other two girls. It was way cool, but then we had to go back to the dorms. Tomorrow, we get to do our skit and the evening activity is the Firebrand Awards. I’ll see you in a few days. I want to go back to the All-Arts & Sciences Camp next summer — either at UNCG again or maybe NC State and take Vet Science.

Love, Ross

Camp Sea Gull/ Seafarer

Arapahoe, NC


Camp is only about two hours from my home in Raleigh, but it is a world away. It’s a world where I can wiggle my toes in the sand and sail the Pamlico Sound. It’s a world where dozens of smiling counselors shout “Ahoy There” and give me handfuls of fireballs. (Be careful when you eat these things!)

It’s a world where I dare to ride the zip line and bounce on the blob. It’s a world filled with archery, horseback riding and giggles with friends. When I dream, I hear the sound of sails whipping in the wind. I smell the rich wood of my cabin and count the days when I can return to this special place.

It’s a world of bug juice, the best fried chicken in the world and chocolate birthday cake. It’s a world where I can appreciate nature and become a good steward of its resources. It’s a world where the day begins with a blaring bugle and ends with a quiet devotion.

My counselor might be from Australia or Asheville, but he will show me a world filled with sincere friendships, gratitude and a stronger sense of self. I may not realize it yet, but this is a world where I’m pushing my limits, learning life lessons and charting a course — the right course. And it’s only three hours from home.

YMCA Camp Kanata

Wake Forest


Dear Mom and Dad,

I got up at 7:15 this morning all on my own! Maybe, you should try playing reveille every morning.

Did you know Kanata has an archery range? And the ropes course is awesome! I didn’t know pine trees could be this tall. I guess you already knew since you spent your summers at Kanata. But they’ve made some changes since you camped here. They have a zip line and a cool climbing wall. They even have a 60-foot water slide! They’re putting the finishing touches on a new building that contains two separate cabins. When I come back to Kanata next year, I want to stay there. There’s a huge porch that faces the lake.

And I can’t believe how many counselors there are here. There are 10 kids in my cabin and two counselors. Mom, don’t worry, they make sure we’re extra safe. I have to wear a life jacket when I’m in a boat and a helmet when I’m on the climbing wall.

The tall pine trees, rolling hills, and trails are still here. The crickets sing me to sleep. The best things haven’t changed at all.


Your Happy Camper

Camp G.R.A.C.E. — A YMCA Day Camp for Autistic Children



Science or soccer? Kickball or karate? Drama or dance? For a healthy child, the day camp choices in the Triangle are unlimited.

But for a child with special needs, the options are few and far between. The state Department of Public Instruction claims nearly 1,000 children in Wake, Durham, Orange, Chatham and Johnston counties have been diagnosed with autism or related disorders.

Camp Grace, a day camp for children ages 6-13, offers many of these children a chance to experience the fun of summer camp. The name of the camp at the A.E. Finley YMCA in North Raleigh is an acronym for Growth, Recognition, Achievement, Character and Encouragement. Specially trained counselors offer sessions focused on social skills and building blocks. This unique atmosphere allows autistic children to learn through art, music and horse therapy. Several times each day, the children with autism take part in inclusion activities with children from the other Finley camp.

One mother tearfully shared the impact of Camp GRACE on her son: “When my son comes home from school and I ask him what he did that day, he says ‘I had peas.’ After his second day at Camp GRACE he said, ‘I rode a horse, played games and did a picture.’ This was the first time he has ever spoken like this.”

Camp Invention

Raleigh, Cary, Apex


As my mom was pulling up to the doors at Carver Elementary School, I grabbed my stuff and practically jumped out of the car. I couldn’t wait to start my second day at Camp Invention.

I hurried to base camp and checked in with my counselor, Sandy, and my group. Our group is named the Bell Group, after Alexander Graham Bell, one of the greatest inventors of all time. As we were waiting for the others to arrive, we were competing to see what group could work together the fastest and build the tallest freestanding structure with just newspaper and masking tape. Working at lightening speed, we won by only a few inches!

After everyone arrived, we went to our first module called Imagination Point: Physics in Motion, where we work as design interns for the world’s largest amusement park. Today, we built our very own roller coaster rides. In the recycling room, I found plastic tubes and wire to help me. Who new trash could be so much fun?

Next was Problem Solving on Planet Zak. We are stranded on Planet Zak, and today we are learning how to predict the weather, and, more importantly, design shelter and clothing so we can survive. You never know when a storm will hit us and we’ll have to take cover.

At lunch time, we marched our way down to the cafeteria with our group. I found my lunch box and sat with my two friends. We talked about what we were going to do this afternoon. When we finished eating, our director, Ms. Smith, came to get us for some outdoor fun in Amazing Games.

We played Defend the Shaving Cream. I had never heard of that game, but it was awesome! We had to use water toys to melt the other team’s shaving cream supply. Then it was time for Spills and Chills. I love acting as an engineer. Today, it was my job was to make skateboards safer. We tested our designs with crash test dummies.

At our last module, I Can Invent, I got to use real tools to take apart my mom’s broken toaster. I’m saving every part that I find inside, so that I can invent a machine that will solve all my problems. Ms. Jones said that we will be able to use the things in the recycle room to help with our invention. “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” she said.

One more stop before the day was over: afternoon base camp. Ms. Smith gave us all a popsicle and told us that tomorrow is “crazy hat day.” I’m going home to create the craziest hat I can imagine. I can’t wait to wear it tomorrow!

Camp Staunton Meadows

Clover, VA


It is 5:00a.m.and still dark outside when I hear Anna banging the grain scoop against the fence. I love the sweet bits of corn, oats and barley of my feed. I run to the gate so I can be first in line.

As she leads us one-by-one to our stalls, the sun begins to lighten the sky and I can see that she has brought me fresh water and mucked-out my stall from yesterday. After giving us each a once over, she looks through the tack to make sure all our leathers are clean and ready. She does not groom or tack us — the campers will do that later.

We hear the wake-up bell and chuckle. We’ve been up for hours already. In time, Anna leaves us to join the campers and counselors in the dining hall for breakfast. When she returns, she has campers with her. We watch as counselors lead the campers around the barn and hand out grooming tools. A brown-haired little boy slides the door open to my stall and steps in with a pick, brush and fly spray. He’s a little timid and wobbly holding my large hoof, but the counselor is helping him and together they work to make sure my feet and coat are clean and that my main is untangled.

They leave and he returns with a saddle that is almost bigger then he is, but somehow he manages to get it on my back. The counselor comes in and makes a few adjustments to the saddle pad and tightens the girth, then shows him how to put on my bridle.

There are four of us ready for a lesson: Pumpernickle, Dandy, Sugar and me, Tigger. We are all different sizes and colors, but all have good manners and love the littlest riders. The campers mount our backs and we begin to walk around in the ring. The instructor is showing them with her body the ways a rider can communicate with us. Some of the kids get it right away, others need a couple more times around the ring. We switch directions and even get to trot a few paces witch makes some of the campers giggle.

The campers take off our tack and spray us well with water. Then the little boy covers me with citronella fly spray. When he’s done, I am led to my beautiful pasture where I run and roll around in the green grass while the campers go to free swim, lunch and rest hour.

The bell again rouses them from their cabins and everyone heads to camp store to spend time with friends from other cabins. Meanwhile, Anna and her barn crew come to bring us to the stable again. We all begin to shift our weight and whiney in excitement. When the campers come, they get us ready to hit the trail, and we all walk together to the mounting blocks outside the stable. My rider is more advanced than the little boy this morning, so it’s not a surprise when we get to the pasture at the top of the hill and she shortens her reins and nudges me into a canter. We slow to a walk and enter the wooded trail that takes us along the river. The riders are talking to each other and playing a game of passing a leaf back down the line — becoming more stable and balanced riders without realizing it. Soon, I recognize that we are on the way home. I quicken my stride in anticipation of my afternoon bath time.

Before you know it we are dismounted, un-tacked, washed, sprayed and led back to the pasture for the evening. The campers chatter as they finish the last of the barn chores and head for their last activity of the day. Sometimes they stay here at the barn for a special dressage lesson or braid tying class. They also have anatomy lessons, equine clinics and horse games on rainy days. In the evening, we hear distant hollers and squeals of campers having all sorts of fun and adventure. Sometimes they put on their bathing suits and head for the lake for a cookout and fun on the blob, zip line, paddle boats and slide. Other nights, it’s a game of capture the flag, ultimate Frisbee or a dance.

The campers are the best part of my summer. They are so fun and they all come with different riding experiences. Many of them have never even touched a horse or smelled the inside of a barn. Others ride at home and jump and show. Some campers are so busy with all the other camp activities that they never even make it over to the barn. All of them come to camp to see old friends, meet new ones and have a great time.