The young boy, stepping out of his parents' car, shook his head to the question from inside.

"You sure?"

He shook his head again.

"You gonna have a long ride," insisted his mother.

The parents kept the aging sedan idling as their son walked across the playground, bright and early, for the bus to camp.

Beyond him, in front of a brick building at 12th and G streets SE, a juvenile buzz of excitement ran along the human line that started outside and led down the steps and into the registration room inside, where parents were filling out health and registration forms.

Girls in white shorts and T-shirts, their hair braided in tight rows, sat or stood attentively by their parents. The boys, some in starched white shirts, others in well-pressed T-shirts, stared down the road waiting for the buses to arrive. Around them bags and suitcases bulged in mountainous piles on the sidewalk, some looking stuffed enough for a year's travel.

Fifty miles and an hour's drive south lay Camp Happyland, 215 acres of Salvation Army-run playground near the Rappahannock River where generations of Washington children have learned the rites of summer. From crafts to canoeing, from "Indian life" to talent nights, the woodsy rituals of summer camp endure there, even in the age of the computer.

"It's swimming and fun and you learn about God," said Artis Parker, 12, shifting her weight impatiently from one foot to the other. Her 9-year-old brother Dan stood quietly next to her, thumb firmly wedged in his mouth. "There's bikes, and swimming and canoeing, hiking and et cetera," said Artis.

"And you eat three meals a day," she added.

Their mother, Ruth Parker, came back from registration to give them their "Hello My Name Is . . . " sticky tags. "I've got five children and all five have been going," she said. "They look forward to it and I look forward to them going. Artis started going when she was 9."

"Eight," says Artis.

Five days of camp.

"I wish it were two weeks," said Pat Sutton. Her daughter, Rukiyah Iyesha Wright, 11, sat primly on a suitcase against a metal fence in the basketball court outside the building. "As soon as they get there, it's time to come back."

Sutton, a student at the Academy of Business Careers, has three camp veterans "and the youngest will be going next year."

Asked what she would do with her free week, she replied, "I'm going to school."

Salvation Army Maj. Robert Griffin, the Salvation Army's director of social services, said Camp Happyland hosts a variety of programs, including those for senior citizens and various adult and youth groups. The children leaving yesterday were the second of two one-week camps for children recruited since mid-May by several social service agencies.

The children (arranged in groups of 12 to 15 with two counselors per group), usually learn to swim by the end of the week, Griffin said. "We have a lake . . . Some of them like to fish. There are two basketball courts -- they live on that.

"Probably the best thing we've got is the "Ropes and Initiative" course, a sort of survival course. Getting across the stream on a log . . . The kids really like it. The rope is attached to a steel line and runs about 50 feet and they get to slide down it when they pass the course. They learn to cooperate with other people. The situation is set up so others have to put ropes and logs together to get across the stream."

If some of that sounds Outward Boundy, most of Camp Happyland remains kid stuff. Boys still sleep 10 to a cabin, keep each other up late telling ghost stories in the dark and dare each other to tiptoe over to the girls' section. The lure of it all remains timeless: more children showed up yesterday than the 200 who registered.

"We'll have to open a new section of the camp," said Griffin. "We can always squeeze some surplus there."

Inside the registration room, a basement room with two long tables, Salvation Army volunteers were receiving health reports and taking donations.

"They've been very nice," said mother Rachel Ford about the Salvation Army as she rolled up a sleeping bag in a corner of the room. Her two children, Shed and Antonio, 10 and 12, are going to camp, but "I didn't have money to pay my fee. I'm going to pay them later."

"The fee varies according to their income," said camp coordinator Carol Armstrong. "It ranges from $5 to $100."

"This is my third time," said Carey Hamilton, back outside, as the children and parents continued to wait impatiently for the buses. The 10-year-old was wearing a Michael Jackson T-shirt. "You get to do a lot of activities. There's people working together with you. The counselors are very nice. They help you when you need something. I get to meet friends. It's just fun."

"About 2,000 people go to Camp Happyland over the summer, betweeen June and August," said Salvation Army spokeswoman Kathleen Carroll. "The funding comes from public contributions and each year the Women's Auxiliary has a garden party." The last one, held at the British Embassy, helped raise the year's $40,000, she said.

Four school buses arrived. Mothers kissed their children goodbye, herded them in and then stood outside the bus windows.

"Have a good time," said an elderly woman, banging on a bus window. "Look out for your sister and be good, hear?"

"Don't be chasing little girls," joked adult Ron Elam to Marquette Matthews, the 9-year-old son of a friend, who was boarding. Marquette, who had been waiting for this moment a long time, had no time for an answer. He boarded the bus.

"I'm going to spend the whole week in tears," said Viveca March, her eyes fixed on children Cykithia and Javon March, both 8, sitting at another bus window.

"I'm going to miss you," said a girl leaning out of a bus window to her mother. "I might write you a letter on the paper I got, but I don't have an envelope."

And they were off.