Summer Camps

Millions of American children attend summer camp. Some play sports. Others make music, learn to use a computer or take part in other activities. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Come along with us this week to summer camp, on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Traditional American summer camps offer young people a chance to play many sports. These camps may be in the mountains. Or they may be in the woods, or at a lake. Other camps teach activities like painting or music. Or they teach computer programming or foreign languages. Children at all kinds of camps meet new friends. They learn new skills and develop independence.

Some children go to camp during the day and return home at night. These places are called day camps. Children as young as four years old attend day camps. Others stay at camp all day and all night. Most children who attend overnight camp are between the ages of about six and sixteen.

Children stay at an overnight camp for between one and eight weeks. Parents can pay less than one-hundred dollars a week for an overnight camp. Or they can pay more than seven-hundred dollars a week.

Children from poor families might not have a chance to attend summer camp. The Fresh Air Fund is a well-known organization that gives children in New York City that chance. People around the country give money to support the Fresh Air Fund. Each summer, it serves about ten-thousand poor children from the city. It sends them to stay with families in the country or to five camps in New York State.

Since eighteen-seventy-seven, the Fresh Air Fund has helped almost two-million of New York City's most needy children. These children do what they cannot do in the city. They breathe fresh air. They play on green grass. They swim in a lake. Some children begin to stay with the same family when they are very young and continue for a number of summers.

Shaquille is an eight-year-old boy from the Bronx, a part of New York City. He has visited the same family in the state of Vermont for several summers. He especially enjoys playing and going to open-air activities with the family's two children.

Summer camps have become very important to millions of families. Many American women now work outside the home. Working parents need a place where their children can be cared for during the summer when they are not in school.

Camps also help children develop independence. For most children, overnight camp is the only time during the year they are away from their parents. Camp lets them enjoy being with many other children. Campers live together in cloth tents or in wooden cabins. They eat meals together in a large dining room.

But the first time at summer camp can sometimes be difficult. Children might not like the food. Or, they might not like to swim in a cold lake. They may not want to climb a hill on a hot day. Some new campers miss their parents very much.

Also, some camps ban the use of electronic equipment and toys. Children who play electronic games and use wireless telephones may miss them. These children might enjoy a camp that permits these devices. But many families say their children need to learn more about nature. They say their children need a holiday from technology.

The American Camping Association suggests that parents prepare children before sending them to camp. It advises parents to discuss what the camp will be like and what campers will need to know. For example, parents can show their children how to use a flashlight to find a bathroom at night.

The American tradition of sending children to summer camp began more than one-hundred years ago. Frederick and Abigail Gunn started what was probably the first organized American camp. They operated a school for boys in the state of Connecticut. In eighteen-sixty-one, Mr. and Mrs. Gunn took their students on a two-week trip. They walked to an area where they set up camp. The students fished, hunted and traveled by boat.

Today, summer camps may be outdoor ones similar to those of Abigail and Frederick Gunn. For example, a camp in Forest Lake, Minnesota, centers its activities on nature. Campers at the Wildlife Science Center study the structure of groups, or packs, of wolves.

But camps today may also be very different from those early fresh-air camps. For example, Pali Adventures summer camp in southern California offers several special interest camps in addition to more traditional ones. In one of these special camps, children twelve to sixteen years of age study food preparation with a professional chef.

There are more than twelve-thousand camps in the United States. Some offer just one main activity. Children can play a single sport, like tennis, soccer, baseball or basketball.

Young people who like the arts can learn about music, dance, art, acting or writing.

Perhaps the best known camp for young artists is the Interlochen Arts Camp. It is part of the Interlochen Center for the Arts in the state of Michigan. Its music program is especially well known. More than two-thousand young people are attending the arts camp this year.

Camps that offer programs in science and environmental studies are popular, too. For example, the United States Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, welcomes adults as well as children. Whole families can live together in a place like a real space station. They take part in activities similar to those carried out during space shuttle flights.

There are also camps for older children who like wilderness adventure. Campers take long trips by bicycle or canoe. Or, they go rock climbing or ride horses. For example, since nineteen-forty-eight, boys and girls have explored the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at Sanborn Western Camps. These are built more than two-thousand-six-hundred meters above sea level.

Other summer camps in America help children learn about religion, help them lose weight, or help them develop their knowledge of technology. Thousands of young people attend computer camps in the United States.

The nation also has many camps for sick or disabled children. At these camps, many children take part in traditional activities, but they also receive special medical care.

Handi Kids in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, offers camp for children and young adults with physical or mental disorders. The campers enjoy water sports, arts, dance, music and other activities.

A camp in the state of Connecticut offers fun for children with cancer and serious blood diseases. It is called the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Actor Paul Newman started the first Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in nineteen-eighty-eight. Since then others have been established in the United States and overseas.

For many children in overnight camps across the United States, the day ends in a traditional way. They gather around the campfire to cook and eat a sweet dessert food called "s'mores."

The campers cook marshmallows over the fire. They put the marshmallows and a piece of chocolate between two graham crackers.

This food got its name because after campers eat one, they ask for "some more." As the fire dies down, the campers join in traditional songs like this one.

Chances are, the children will always remember the times they spent in the firelight at summer camp.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.