Book Review: Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults by Audrey Monke – 5 stars!

If you’ve seen my other recent posts, then you know that we just sent my 11-year old son to overnight camp for the first time. It was quite the learning experience for all of us so I was extremely interested in reading Happy Campers by Audrey Monke. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect…was she going to recommend that we canoe every day and sing campfire songs every night? I must say, however, that I was absolutely delighted with this book. I read the entire thing with a highlighter and took away so many great parenting tips that I know I’ll need to keep this book on hand for a good number of years going forward!

Monke begins her book by establishing her credibility as a parenting expert. She has 4-5 kids herself but her real qualifiction comes in the form of having owned a summer camp since she was right out of college. First, I can’t imagine trying to own and run anything at that age…but I certainly wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to take on the business aspect of a summer camp at 22 (let alone responsibility for hundreds of other people’s children!) Her story is incredibly interesting and really establishes her as someone with incredible foresight and an amazing head on her shoulders!

As I said, I read this book with a highlighter…I got about 1/8 of the way through it and realized that I was going to want to keep track of a number of pieces of parenting advice that Monke was providing. Her book is broken into 9 primary chapters…9 seperate areas of advice that she recommends we focus on with our children. Each area feels distinct and important…she covers such topics as fostering independence and building grit. She also breaks each chapter down into the following sections:

  1. One Simple Thing – Identifies a small tweak that, as a parent, I can make to my own behavior.
  2. The Sticky Note Solution – One or two simple things I can do with a sticky note to drive home the lesson of the chapter for my child
  3. Make it Fun – Ways to bring fun into introducing the chapter topic to your family
  4. Around the Campfire – Suggestions for daily family sharing
  5. Family Meeting Topic – Ways to implement formal communication for the whole family on a given topic
  6. Diving Deeper – Ideas for creating substantive shifts in family culture

I really appreciated the way the book was broken up because it gave me a number of different ways to approach Monke’s suggestions. On some topics, I’m ready to make wholesale changes to the way my family handles certain things…one others, one simple thing is just about all I can handle. Either way, I feel like I have strategies for taking on the suggestions that I value right now. Give me a solution that is going to take weeks to implement and you might as well forget it, I’ll never get back to it!

Monke’s book is peppered with both solid advice and compelling stories. As a busy mom, it’s much easier for me to internalize her advice if I’m given a concrete example of how it applies. She not only provides examples of how she learned the importance of each of the areas she promotes at camp, she gives us practical examples of how to apply them at home. Monke has the advantage of having known thousands of kids over her years as a camp owner but also being the mom in a relatively large family. She can give objective positive and negative growth examples from camp but also explain how she has applied those learnings (for better or worse) to her own children.

One of the things I really appreciated about Monke’s writing style is that it is very personal. This is not a textbook. It’s also not judgy or mom-shaming. Monke is very open about where, as a camp owner and as a mom, she has succeeded and failed. Even in situations where she’s illustrating mistakes that she believes were made by parents of her campers, she takes the time to empathize with their decision making process and explain the rationale that might have led them to their thought process.

All in all, I walked away from reading Happy Campers with tons of food for thought and several pages of notes! I’ve already implemented one of Monke’s ideas: as a family, we share our daily high point and low point every night before bed. It’s been an easy way to learn more about what my son is experiencing day in and day out and to teach him that it’s important to ask and learn about other’s experiences as well! Happy Campers is applicable for parents of children of all ages (truly, I wish I had ready many of Monke’s suggestions earlier) and I highly recommend it as an easy-to-read, highly digestible way to evaluate some important parenting topics!

To get a copy of Audrey Monke’s Happy Campers for yourself, please click the link below:

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