Disclosure: I am putting it first because I want everyone to know that while we experienced this weekend free of charge, everything, and I mean everything, in this blog post is from the heart...
Our family had the privilege to join a group of bloggers and their families for a weekend at Ontario Pioneer Camp for the "Pioneer Experience"...and let me tell you, it was a GREAT experience!
You can read the history of the camp on their website...they started in 1929!! That is a long time and you can tell that they have perfected their program over the years!
I speak for myself, but I am pretty sure the other bloggers would agree, that the weekend was amazing. I don't even know if I can describe, exactly, why it was amazing. It was peaceful, fun and inclusive.
First, the staff were (and are) AMAZING!! By the end of the first night, they knew my kids names, and mine. They were comfortable to be around. It was like we had known each other for a long time, even though we had just met. One of the amazing things I learned was that about 90% of the staff were campers as kids. They want to come back!
I grew up going to many camps, and I am not sure that the majority of the staff had been campers or not...but I do know that I had NEVER met staff that were so easy to talk with, were so knowledgeable, and were so inclusive!!
Second, there was such a wide variety of activities going on, for all ages and personalities. We did pack a lot in during this weekend, to be able to experience as much as possible. I stayed with the younger girls and did some camp crafts in the morning...and they weren't just any craft...they got to make "Marshmallow Shooters", like a nerf gun, but for marshmallows...the girls are still running around with them. Hope even made up her own little game where she tries to shoot a mini marshmallow in the air and have it fall in a cup! They also made Mason Jar Lanterns and a bean mosaic.
The older kids headed over to the rock climbing wall and apparently Devin is quite the climber...I don't think he was able to be the fastest climb at this point, but he had fun trying. We headed to the beach after for kayaking, beach volleyball, sandcastle building and swimming. I did not brave the water, after seeing how cold Devin was in the kayak!
My favourite activity, and by the end of the day it was Hopes favourite activity too, was archery. I have not done archery since I was at summer camp...20 some odd years....but I still have the skills!! Check out the can! Now, Keri insists that it was a fluke...I will never admit that:-)
We had a tour of the grounds, which are massive (1200 acres), in the Voyageur Canoes and we headed to the Girls Camp (They have a Girls Camp, a Boys Camp, and an Adventure Camp). Each of the camps have a slide going down a hill into the lake, we hiked over to see the treehouse and one of the original buildings...which was a beautiful log house! The cabins that the kids sleep in are wooden floors and canvas type siding. Definitely different then I have ever seen at a camp!
After supper we played a game of Flame Battlers, which was fun to watch...oh, I was defending our fire, so yeah, I played! There is a red team and a blue team, and the goal is to save your fire from the water balloons from the other team...there was jail, and you had to do funny things to get out again...I believe the red team won! Keri had a wipeout but still had a blast.
The kids (and me too) enjoyed snacks and sundaes in the dining hall at the end of the night, and games. The favourite of the weekend was Ed's Alley...with golf balls and a long alley...it is definitely a game that we will NOT forget, it brought out the competition in all of us, young and old...
Of course, there was a campfire with s'mores and a bonfire with songs and stories and fun.
On Sunday, the older kids had the opportunity to try out the high ropes course and the zip line...yes, I did say ZIP LINE!! I loved that while the kids were trying things out, the staff would encourage them. They were not pushy or degrading, encouraging them to try things out, but if they weren't comfortable that was ok too. The positive words and the guiding while on the ropes was awesome. Grace had persevered through the low ropes course, and even though she fell pretty hard there, she still stuck it out and tried the high ropes...
I took the 4 older kids, to have a bit of respite from life with Faith...it can be trying to always have to deal with a sister who demands so much time because of her diagnosis...but while I was at camp, I also learned that Ontario Pioneer Camp is one of the few camps that provides an inclusion program!!
I was ECSTATIC to hear that!! This is the camp where I can send Faith and she will be able to participate fully in the programming, she will be one of the "regular" campers, only she will have a 1-1 support for the week! Up to this point, I was never sure that Faith would be able to go to a camp that wasn't specifically for special needs...and now, I can't wait to send her! I think she would have an absolute blast here, as would all my kids!
As soon as we left, the kids were asking about going back. Devin filled out his application to work there this summer as soon as we got home...I am excited for him as he has his interview tomorrow! I know that if he gets this opportunity, he will come home a different person.
Summer camp is an amazing opportunity for every kid, it helps to build there confidence, their self esteem, their desire to grow in new ways. This is the one camp that I am going to work towards each of my kids going to every year...I want them to experience the love, the peace, the gentleness, the encouragement and the chance to build lifelong relationships with kids and adults from so many other places!!
Ontario Pioneer Camp is an amazing place!! For your body (man was I sore when I got home), for your spirit (the peacefulness I felt there was awesome) and for your soul (nature and new experiences are amazing)...I would highly suggest this camp to anyone looking for a high quality place to send their kids.