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  • Looking for a summer camp experience? Here are some recommendations from Bee readers. For more summer camp listings, check out the American Camp Association Northern California's website,

    Camp Noel Porter, Tahoe City, (530) 583-3014

    Ellen Ochsner, Sacramento: "The camp has helped my daughter in many ways that aren't advertised in the camp's brochure. My daughter is not outgoing and was very shy when she was young. Making friends and sharing a week with other kids she didn't know helped her become more outgoing and confident."

    Camp Winnarainbow, Laytonville, (510) 525-4304

    Jen DeLugach, Folsom: "Last summer, our daughter, who was then 9, went. She loved it and is looking forward to going back again this summer. She said it was the best experience of her life and was so thankful for the experience."

    Camp Pendola, Camptonville, (916) 733-0141

    Stella MacKay, Carmichael: "My children have gained many things by attending Camp Pendola as it's a safe, Christian environment that is organized to keep the campers busy while also allowing opportunity for personal growth and independence. ... Being out in the gorgeous wooded surroundings at Pendola gives a child a chance to get closer to nature for that whole week. The air smells of pine. The summer heat is mitigated by daily swimming in the onsite pond. Being a kid at a summer camp in the woods is a glorious thing that I hope my children pass on to their children."

    Nawa Academy, French Gulch, (530) 359-2215

    Jamie Meyers, Folsom (whose son attended the Great Challenge): "It was wonderful for him. He learned a lot and earned 15 high school credits."

    Leoni Meadows Camp, Grizzly Flat, (530) 626-3610

    Danielle Pinney, Carmichael: "My son returned from his week last summer declaring that next summer he needed to go for two weeks. My daughter has discovered that she may want to pursue a career with a camp or work for a camp that serves children with special needs, and this summer, she will be volunteering for a local day camp. All of this because of camp."

    (Pinney also suggested Camp Have-a-lot-of-Fun through Mission Oaks Recreation and Park District in Carmichael.)

    - Niesha Lofing Summer camps teach kids lessons for a lifetime

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 19, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 1D
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 8, 2011 - 1:57 pm

Connie Sanders Emerson has a pile of summer camp printouts stacked 2 inches high next to the laptop on her kitchen island.

Her two children, Sophie, 11, and Mack, 9, will attend a total of 12 different day camps this summer, from the Sacramento Zoo's camp to a sailing program at Sacramento State Aquatic Center.

Emerson starts planning for summer early, when 50 degree spring days are still the norm.

But the copious planning, sorting and charting is worthwhile. Camps do more than just fill idle summer hours – they help Sophie and Mack improve their sports technique, care for animals, learn new hobbies.

Summer camps also teach the siblings some invaluable skills, like how to quickly make friends.

"They learn some independence because they're away from their school environment," she said. "The social skills they learn – I'm totally in favor of that."

Sophie likes that the camp instructors are high school or college-age youths, "and more fun than teachers and parents can be," Emerson said. Mack loves the sports camps he attends at Sacramento State and the skills he's developed.

Many parents – and their kids – have found that summer camp is more than just a chance to sleep in a teepee and hear scary ghost stories by a fire. It's a chance to connect with nature, experience life through a different lens. It's a chance to learn lessons to last a lifetime.

Jim Hurley is 55 but vividly remembers the summer of 1964, his first year at Camp Noel Porter, where he has since sent his own children.

Hurley was 9 years old that first summer at the Episcopal church camp in Tahoe City. The camp session had two priests that year, the Rev. Bill Burrill of Davis and the Rev. Bob Noble of Redding. Burrill was about 5-foot-5 and Noble was more than 6 feet tall.

"But when they played volleyball, it was as if they couldn't lose," Hurley wrote in an email.

Burrill could set up shots from anywhere on the court. Noble would stand by the net and spike everything Burrill sent his way.

"I was small as a child, typically the smallest boy in the group anywhere I went. Father Burrill, using his quickness and low center of gravity to play magnificent volleyball, taught me that being short was not always a disadvantage," Hurley said.

Lessons like these abound in camp settings. Children and teenagers learn how to make decisions independent of their parents, how to work with people they don't know and get an opportunity to enhance their social skills, said Andrew Townsend, campdirector of Kennolyn Camps in the Santa Cruz mountains.

"The reality is kids today spend a lot of time not interacting face to face," he said. "But when you put kids in a setting where they don't have that technology, it's amazing to see how talented they really are – with a good nurturing adult or two making sure no one gets left out – at learning how to go up to someone and introduce themselves. These social skills are fantastic at camp and lacking in many parts of their life now."

To ensure that your child or teen will gain those invaluable lessons, you have to choose a camp that your child will enjoy. In other words, pick the camp that's right for your kid.

"Take a moment to recognize who your kid is and what you want to get out of the camping experience," Townsend advised. "Have a family discussion about what you're looking for."

Poll parents at school or work for their recommendations (and check out the recommendations from parents in the box at right). Explore sites such as the American Camp Association Northern California's website – – where you can customize your search for an accredited camp based on location, activities, cultural focus, cost and length of session.

Extensive Internet searching is how Chris and Jon Robinette found Mountain Camp, a picturesque sleepaway camp on Ice House Lake in the El Dorado National Forest.

Their daughters Katie, 13, and Dani, 9, are returning this summer for their third and second years, respectively. They picked Mountain Camp for its outdoor adventure focus.

"We aren't a camping family, so I wanted them to have that experience of being outdoors and swimming in lakes and checking out the stars at night," Chris Robinette said.

Robinette likes that her daughters are learning water sports and interacting with counselors from around the globe. But she also loves that her daughters are gaining other invaluable lessons.

"They learn a lot about teamwork and group dynamics and how to get along with other people," she said.

As for the girls, they've learned some important lessons too.

"Try to not go to the bathroom in the middle of the night," said Dani.

OK, how about the second-best lesson?

"Well you learn how to climb big heights, canoe, how to fish," she said. "And they teach you basic life skills and making new friends and stuff."

Katie has made friends at summer camp that she stays in touch with all year through Facebook.

"You get to make a bond with people," she said. "(Camp) is a great experience. In team exercises, I have to learn to be patient with others and work with others and really be part of a team."

Stacy Diamond of Gold River has sent her daughter to Camp Eagle Ridge, a leadership camp in Wisconsin's Northwoods every summer since she was 9 years old. Diamond is from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so she thought the opportunity would be a good experience for her daughter.

"She has never in her seven years this coming summer mentioned anything I thought she might think of negatively, based on her California upbringing – not even the Northwoods mosquitoes," Diamond wrote in an email. "To say she loves camp doesn't even come close to describing what the camp experience has meant to her."

This summer, at 15, Diamond's daughter will attend camp for six weeks.

"It's the very best gift you can give your child," Diamond said. "It will literally make them a better, stronger, more self-confident individual – all while having fun."

And just think of the stories they'll regale you with when they come home in a haze of dirt and mosquito bites.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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