Childhood and Summer, Then and Now

On summer evenings my greatest pleasure is sitting on the porch and reading.  My porch has soft lighting and wood everywhere; bare wood and rough wood.  The ceiling is the roughest wood of all, and my husband wants to paint it.  Oh, no!  That would be a travesty.  I knew it would, but I didn’t know why… until I sat out on the porch this week.

I heard thunderstorms in the distance.  I stopped reading to listen and just be in the moment.  I was transported back to my childhood at summer camp, Camp Dekanawida in Salt Rock, WV.  This was overnight camp.  There were no day camps or sports camps.  Camp was, well… real camp.  We slept in a cabin, learned swimming and archery, sang songs every morning and evening.  I remember the nighttime counselor hunt, the bonfires, and the hikes.  To this day, I can still sing the camp song.  Every word.

It’s been sixty years.  Seems like yesterday.

My porch and all the rough wood, along with the thunderstorms, brought me back to my childhood and to summer camp.  That’s why I didn’t want to paint or change the wood.  It was a link to my best memories and to what shaped me as a child, and as an adult.

I love music.  Today I sing with gusto, and  pull children into songs from patriotic to  fun.  I introduce them to opera, and classical music.  We sing,”Old MacDonald” in Italian.  I am constantly humming and bringing music to children.  I know this all started with Morning Sing at Camp Dekanawida.

I love stories; telling stories and reading aloud began at camp in the cabin, and around the campfire.  No, it did not begin at home.  Summer camp was full of stories.  There was nothing else but each other and the big, wide world.  So, stories and talking, and getting along were important.  Ghost stories were scary, yet fun.

I learned to be brave.  I mastered a jackknife dive.  I went into the woods at night.  I pitched a tent.

In the words of the classic book, Charlotte’s Web, “…where there would be no parents to guard them or guide them.”  We had each other.

Fast forward to today at my school’s summer camp.  Jackson is in my group.  He is now seven (a big guy).  Years ago he was in my preschool class and the champion of my chapter reading.  It is wonderful to connect with a child again!  We haven’t missed a beat.

So what happened here?  We sat outside to talk and laugh.  Then we fooled around inside.  Bunny ears on the photo were perfect.  Camp and the great outdoors will do that.  I am giving Jackson and my other campers a small taste of camp in my childhood.  Summer and camp brings all the important things to life: laughing and being silly, and discovering the wonders of the great outdoors.

It’s the best.  I learned that sixty years ago.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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79 Responses to Childhood and Summer, Then and Now

  1. lisan1128 says:

    What a beautiful camp story! Jackson and the campers are in for a great summer with you!

  2. Those sound like great experiences and memories. It’s wonderful that you get to share and encourage what you got from the experiences with other children. It’s nice to see a child who has grown a bit and see how they have changed.

  3. beetleypete says:

    I have always been so envious of American porches. They don’t really exist on houses in the UK. I don’t know why, I have always presumed it is because we don’t generally have good enough weather to use them.
    We don’t have the tradition of summer camps in the same way as you do over there either.
    Two American exports I would really welcome over here.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Both are certainly a good thing to experience. Porches vary from enclosed and screened like mine, to wide open except for a roof. Rain or shine, it is a great place to be. How interesting that they’re not prevalent in the UK. And, what do most children do in the summer? Day camps?

      • beetleypete says:

        Camps are few and far between over here. There are some Soccer camps, and various local authorities provide play centres.
        But most kids either play in the parks and swimming pools, or on computers.

      • Jennie says:

        All great summer activities for children. The old camps that still exist and haven’t changed are the best. They don’t cater to what is popular. They don’t need to. I read a wonderful story of two older men who had been friends for years. They were sitting on a lake and heard a bell. One gentleman remarked that he hadn’t heard a bell like that since he was a child at Camp William Lawrence. His friend was floored, and said that he was at the same camp and vividly remembers the sound of the bell. What a memory, and what a story that they both unknowingly shared. Thank you, Pete. Apologies for the long story. Best to you!

      • beetleypete says:

        No need for an apology. It’s a great story!

  4. Wonderful Jennie. So nice that you can pass this on to the younger generation.

  5. Beautifully written!

  6. John Kraft says:

    There are few thins nicer than a front porch.

  7. Pingback: Childhood and Summer, Then and Now post by Jennie Fitzkee — @jlfatgcs A Teacher’s Reflections | Talmidimblogging

  8. Darlene says:

    I have special memories of camp as a child as well. So nice you can reproduce that feeling for the kids today. I will be a facilitator at a Book Camp in Vancouver this summer for 8 to 11-year-olds. Can’t wait.

    • Jennie says:

      That sounds like wonderful summer, Darlene. Tell me about “book camp”. Our libraries have summer reading problems, but I haven’t heard of a book camp. What books will you use? Camp is terrific!

      • Darlene says:

        Here is the website for the book camp. I am listed under workshops. It is for kids who want to write. How I would have loved to attend something like this as a tween. I will use my books as well as some classics to give examples. Any you would recommend?

      • Jennie says:

        Looks like a great camp, Darlene. Thanks for the website. A full week, except for a half day on Friday, is terrific. I would highly recommend Kate DiCamillo books. They have hit home runs every read. If the group is mostly girls, Raymie Nightingale. If it is a mix, Flora and Ulysses, or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Keep me posted!

      • Darlene says:

        Thanks. I love Kate DiCamllo books. Great suggestions.

      • Jennie says:

        My pleasure, Darlene. 🙂

  9. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Although school is out for the summer Jennie Fitzkee is still spending time with children at the summer camp.. introducing them to the great outdoors, singing around the campfire and learning a little independence.. as she did 60 years ago..

  10. Alice Collins says:

    Jen – What beautiful memories! I love the connections you make between your roots and your classroom.

  11. Sounds wonderful. Coming from a family with six children in the 40’s and 50’s there was no money for summer camp. We lived in Queens, New York, and, the streets and parks were our camps.We played stick ball, box ball, jump rope, potsy, knock hockey, rode bikes, build forts, played board games, read books from the library, went to the local movie house on Saturday, picnic in one yard or another with food and snacks our mothers made for us, and many other activities.We would ride the public bus to Rockaway Beach or the Aquacade for a day of swimming At night we played Hide and go Seek, Ring-a-Leaveo, Stoop Ball, we would lite up punks and sing on the street corners with all the neighborhood kids.I too have fond memories, just different, ☺☺☺

    • Jennie says:

      Patricia, this is such a wonderful story. Thank you! Summer memories are the best. Potsy, Ring-a-Leavo, Stoop Ball are unknown to me, yet I can see them in my mind, in the neighborhood. Just great! And singing on the street corners… that’s the root of the best music from Philly, New Jersey, and New York. Sigh ❤️ Yes, your summer memories are the same in how important they were, just different. Thank you!! 😀

  12. Dan Antion says:

    It’s good to know that you try to bring these quality experiences to the kids in your group. I was never in an organized overnight camp, but had similar experiences with cousins in Virginia.

  13. L. Marie says:

    What a lovely story! I’m so glad you’re investing in children, Jennie. Their lives are all the richer for it.

  14. There is something nostalgic about memories of thunderstorms in childhood, I think. A nice recollection here.

  15. ren says:

    Not only did you learn it…you LIVED it all these years!
    I believe, when we live what we love, we stop aging in those moments…
    henceforth, is why you are so young and vibrant today.

  16. Norah says:

    What wonderful experiences, Jennie. Summer camps are not a “thing” here as they are in the States. I’m interested to learn that camp initiated so many “loves” for you, and that your porch at home rekindles the memories.

    • Jennie says:

      It does, Norah. Some of my other bloggers outside the US also tell me that summer camp is not a thing there. Interesting!

      • Norah says:

        Our summer holidays are not as long as yours. They are only six weeks, and incorporate Christmas and New Year. By the time the New Year has arrived it’s only a few more weeks before we are back to school in mid-late January.

      • Jennie says:

        That makes perfect sense as to why you don’t have summer camps. While a long summer break is great for children, they often have to catch up on what they loose academically. Teachers often spend the first few weeks of school in review. So, there are pros and cons.

      • Norah says:

        I think with your long holidays, the children would need activities like summer camp. Otherwise it would be a long time with “nothing to do”. The “summer slide” is a problem here too, but the children don’t have as long to forget. I agree with you. As with everything, there are pros and cons.

  17. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post!

  18. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is a wonderful post!

  19. I’m with you on the porch remaining rustic. Our wood ceiling had a lot of stamping on it though (numbers), so after a few years, I finally decided it needed a new look. So now it is sky blue with clouds to keep that outdoorsy feel to it. Have a great time at summer camp!

  20. reocochran says:

    I went to summer camp for two weeks each summer. My two brothers went over the same period which I’m sure gave my parents their own version of fun times. 😉
    I remember several camp songs which I sang to my children every night for years after their chapter books, ages 5 -14. The oldest read her own books silently, while her younger sister and brother still listened. We learned how to make lanyards, row boats, hike using a compass, earn badges and eventually I got to be a docent in Washington DC.
    My brother Rich made Eagle Scout and I made G.S. Ambassador. I think someone reading this may be glad if I say there are camp scholarships which help pay for camping which I applied for. My oldest daughter loved G.S. horseback camp. 🙂 My son enjoyed an outdoorsman camp through church. He learned so many guy skills which I couldn’t reach him like marksmanship, archery and whittling.

    • Jennie says:

      I so enjoyed reading this, Robin. Your camp experiences were wonderful, and you continued to share them. They stuck with you. Don’t you feel they shaped your character? Like being a GS Ambassador? Thank you so much for sharing your story!

      • reocochran says:

        I was so lucky! I just was hoping to inspire someone who may feel their budget might not stretch far enough. My parents could afford camps for us, but as a single Mom, I needed help.
        You know what is funny, Jennie? My grandson and I met twin boys who were 8 years old at the pool two days ago on Sat. They said their parents were sending them away to camp! They said they hoped there was a “zip line!” I told them, “No matter what, try everything!” I hope arts and crafts, boating and singing are included. 🙂 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Yes! Try it all. It feels so good to be able to give a few ‘words of wisdom’ to someone off on a new adventure, doesn’t it?

  21. In the words of the classic book, Charlotte’s Web, “…where there would be no parents to guard them or guide them.” We had each other.

    I loved those lines, as well. I can definitely relate to them and know that some of my students would be able to relate to them, as well. That’s amazing, so you work all year long then as a teacher? No summers off for you? I’m not surprised and am in constant awe of your work ethics and dedication.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Rose! Summers are Summer Camp at school- half the hours and all fun. So I do have a break! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  22. srbottch says:

    A wonderful story of earlier times that we all say we’re better times. Just think how cell phones ‘would have added’ to that experience…NOT! I love the porch, don’t paint the ceiling unless you paint stars on it and put a sleeping bag and air mattress out there at night!😉

  23. I totally get why you don’t want to change that room, Jennie – it’s has a warm, rich, camp/vacation feel! I have wonderful memories of overnight camp too. Those were magical times. Have fun at summer camp, connecting with the “big” kids once again. 😀

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Diana. So glad you have camp memories, too. Yes, they are magical. I’ll be having fun with the big kids, for sure. You never know what might inspire a blog post! 🙂

  24. ksbeth says:

    how wonderful, jennie. i love your camp and am in awe of all of your preschool years. i teach 3-5s and love every minute of it. thanks for reading and following me, i look forward to doing the same with your blog. best, beth

  25. Brinley says:

    Dekanawida we all love you, Dekanawida where skies are blue. Campfire sings a toast to you….I don’t remember all the song but I sure remember all the great memories. Looks like the camp is long gone and no pictures of it to be found but it sure lives in my memory. Did you hike to the old cemetery on the hill? That bridge? I would be terrified to cross it today but loved it then. Horseback riding was probably my favorite memory and my last year I was there I was a junior counselor. Thanks for remembering with me.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! It lives on in my memory, too. I don’t remember the hike to the old cemetery. Was it on the uphill road that went past the cabins for the older campers? I’ll be racking my brain!!! I was a camper from 1958 to 1963. I remember swimming, the morning sing along, the tents, and the cabins up the hill. I remember Fergie the camp director, and the dining hall. Remember singing “Slap Bang” with hands and elbows on the table before meals? I remember the counselor hunt at night, and scrubbing our arms and legs with Tide in the bathroom after a hike. I remember the big bonfire and toasting marshmallows. I remember the play performances, archery, and getting mail. On and on… Please tell me more about the old cemetery on the hill! When did you go there? Okay, here is my best recollection of the camp song: “Dekanawida we all love you. Dekanawida west skies are blue. Hail to all ye Campfire girls. Cheer to the banner as it unfurls. We all love your hills so high. And your trees that point to the sky. Campfire sings a toast to you. Dakanawida true, rah-rah-rah-rah-rah-rah-rah (repeat).

  26. Brinley Curtis says:

    I went in the 70’s 1973 to about 1979 probably and by then it was a day camp and on Thursdays the older girls were allowed to spend the night. To my recollection the cemetery was on the hill just behind what was then the camp office/first aid. i do not believe the cemetery was very old but there were various ages of stones. I wish I had been more in to genealogy when I was younger, I would have appreciated it so much more. All I really remember about it was that it was straight up the hill and it sat at the top, in a small clearing.

    I too remember archery a couple of years of but it stopped as i got older, the craft cabin, and the big house(if you could call it that) next to the pool where we did dress up and performance art. Flag ceremony every morning and afternoon and sing a-longs. Some of the songs I learned at those sing a-longs I have passed down to my classroom, yeap I teach preschool. ROFL!

    The younger girls stayed in the small cabins in the front close to the craft cabin. The older groups stayed in the cabins in the hill and in tents just below them. There was on cabin just across the bridge and I was assigned to it one year. Just past that were the restrooms and then the horses. I remember we would ride school buses from Blazer High School (Ashland, KY) to and from camp and wrap our drinks in foil to keep them cold. We brought our own lunches no meals provided at that point that I remember. I remember one year we did cook out in the woods somewhere and made hamburger inside orange rinds? and s’mores. My last year there I was 12 years old and a junior counselor. All of us stayed in one of the cabins on the hill and we got a skunk under our cabin we were able to be still and not go insane and he moved on….down the hill to one of the tents (they were built on wooden platforms) the group in there started screaming and carrying on and well they didn’t smell so good the next day…..we laughed way to hard at their misfortune but we were 12 so it was funny.

    Needless to say I could go on and on.

    • Jennie says:

      Hi Brinley! Part of me
      Is a little sad that Canp Dekanawida became a day camp. Sleeping in tents and cabins and activities every night were so cool: scavenger hunts, even counselor hunts! I remember counselors hiding in the deep ravine, and even in the laterine. Flashlight tag, songs, play performances, bonfires. It was awesome. Like you, I could go on. I’m so glad that you had a great experience, too. Your memories are also mine. Except for the skunk. Ha! I was born and raised in Huntington, and have lived in Massachusetts for over 30 years. I’ve been teaching preschool here all this time. Love it! So glad you read my post and connected. Great memories!!!

  27. Collect Life says:

    Lovely story and memories 😀💕

  28. Caroline Rigsby Graber says:

    Camp Dekanawida created some of my best summer memories!! I was a camper ’53–57 and the Drama counselor Summer of 1960.

    So sorry it was gone by the time my daughters were ready for camp, but I have taught many of the songs to my grandchildren!!
    Caroline Rigsby Graber

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for this, Caroline. I was there, doing and loving drama. I remember having the lead in The Little Match Girl and another play. I was 10 when you were the drama counselor, so thank you for giving me that experience. I do lots of plays with the children I teach today. Camp Dekanawida gave me that start. I can still sing the camp songs! Swimming, archery, the dining hall (lots of singing there), ice cream push pops before mandatory rest time, and terrific counselors! My best childhood memories, too. ’58-’63.

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