There’s a distinctive feature of Camp Moss Hollow that I’ve sometimes wondered about. The kids who go there learn about nature, of course, but they also just, well, learn. Concerned that students can slip academically after school lets out for the summer, the counselors make sure to pepper the activities with lessons — some subtle, some not so subtle.
What do the campers think?
“I think that’s kind of good,” Rhyen Gaulden of Odenton told me. On Monday, she’ll be returning to the camp she’s gone to every summer since 2007.
“Some kids, when they go off for the summer, they’re not worried about school,” Rhyen continued. She thinks that maybe they should be. And she likes the way Moss Hollow addresses what experts call “summer learning loss.”
“They give us a word every day,” she explained. The word is displayed around the camp. “Sometimes we have a free period, and we go inside the lodge and do spelling tests. Sometimes we talk about the vocabulary word.”
I asked Rhyen if that was too much like school.
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I like to learn. I’ve been on the honor roll my whole life. It makes me happy.”
At Moss Hollow, Rhyen said, “nobody really complains — unless they’re a boy. The girls don’t complain. The boys do.”
Spoken like a true 12-year-old girl.
Moss Hollow was the first sleep-away camp Rhyen ever attended, and she was 6 at the time, younger than most who start there. The camp is aimed at 7- to 14-year-olds. But she quickly fell into the camp’s rhythms.
“When I first went there, they were really open,” she said of the staff. “They made sure I was comfortable and stuff. Then it was fun for me. I wasn’t nervous. I made friends really quickly.”
And when Rhyen got back home, she couldn’t stop talking about her experiences, said her mom, HaShawna Bates.
“She described everything they did,” HaShawna said. “Where she slept, her counselors. . . . She told me how the cabins were set up. The dinner, the breakfast, the activities. Everything.”
Rhyen said that when she’s old enough, she would like to become a counselor at Moss Hollow. And after that?
“I kind of want to be in the Air Force or work in the military,” she said. Rhyen said she thinks it would be nice to be in the military for 10 years and then to go to work for the president.
I asked her why.
“We go to the library every Monday and get books,” she explained. “I read a lot of books about the military. Some people get jobs and they get cut from them easily. I don’t want to get cut from from a job. I want to work for the military where they don’t fire people.”
“Learning experience.” I don’t think that expression existed when I was a kid. It’s useful shorthand for the idea that children can learn as much from informal experiences as from formal ones.
Who can say which is more valuable to a child? Luckily, Camp Moss Hollow has both. For 40 years, the summer camp has welcomed at-risk kids from the Washington area. These are youngsters who might not otherwise be able to afford a week at camp.
How does the camp do it? Volume! By that, I mean that a great volume of Washington Post readers contribute every year. You can make a tax-deductible donation at washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says, “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15251-0045.
I hope you didn’t have lobster for breakfast, because you just might want to have it for lunch. That’s the featured menu item Wednesday at area Clyde’s restaurants. Order it, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Send a Kid to Camp.
You will find steamed lobster at Clyde’s restaurants that include the Hamilton, the Tombs and the Old Ebbitt Grill. The Hamilton also has lobster rolls, if that’s where your taste buds lead you. Bon appetit!
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.