Conrad the Contrarian: Why summer camp will give your kids a backbone!

Ah, the summer holidays. We can smell the fresh sea air, feel the warm sand between our toes and taste the Hansens Flødeis on our lips. 

Noah would have jumped
But summer can be two vastly different experiences for parents and the childless. At this time of year, as a father of two, I envy you people without children. 

Sipping mojitos and taking selfies on the beach in your reclined sun loungers. For the childless, summer holidays represent precisely that: holidays. Holy days to thoroughly work on the tan, day drink and get on top of your social media game. 

For parents we’re faced with the very real challenge of 43 days of the children at home. It’s a long time. It’s longer than Noah spent on the Ark, but with the same level of peril.

Kid on a hot tin roof
Thank god for sommerskole. I remember the glee in my mother’s eyes as she would send me off every summer when her nerves were finally at their end. Of course, this was back in the UK but summer schools there are essentially the same: wild. 

I remember being crammed onto a hot bus and being driven for an eternity to a faraway ‘activity centre’. Millions of children with summer holiday in their veins would be unleashed onto the accommodation. All the pent-up frustration from months sat at desks, inside rooms and now, suddenly, without parents and truly free.

A big part of these camps always seemed to be abseiling. I’ve absolutely no idea when this skill will become useful: perhaps one day trapped in a burning building with 18 metres of spare rope I’ll eat my own words. However, climbing up and down walls in the hot sun seemed to be just what we all needed.

24-7 party people
Like many children I do remember rambunctious levels of fun throughout. All day outside in the hot sun, completely happy to be sweaty and dehydrated, and then suddenly inside an enormous hall with a buffet of food to fill our rumbling stomachs. We would play until exhausted, eat until bursting and somehow have energy to make it to the dormitory.

Dormitories are truly where the madness would take hold. Without any adult eyes it quickly becomes something like ‘Lord of the Flies’. Only two groups will know this to be true: psychologists aware of the 1950s ‘Robbers Cave’ experiment and anyone who attended a summer school. 

We’d attack one another, issue dares, eat random items we’d discovered earlier in the day and generally do anything but sleep. That’s the magic of summer school: to somehow burn 5,000 calories a day, stay up all night and continue wildly the next day.

Knackered, but not spineless
I remember the smell of our dormitory. Initially it was sweat and dirty clothes, but one day I found a large random piece of spine on the beach and smuggled it all the way back in my bag. It reeked a bit, but only the staff ever complained about ‘The Stench’. We kids were just happy to be there.

Then, somehow, it would rapidly all come to an end and we’d be sent back home on that hot bus back to some collection point. 

Bedraggled and dirty, with shoes full of sand, our loving parents would still want us back. Once back at home our mothers would open our bags only to discover half our clothes missing, someone else’s underpants… and a spine.

As a parent looking back on those long hot summers I better understand my mother’s glee. She loved me but she also knew those 40-plus days were enough to send anyone bananas.

Far better to opt for limes, as I’m sure she did on a sunlounger in our garden, drinking mojitos.