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Posted: January 25, 2014 10:00 p.m.

4-H Forever: Kids taste independence at summer camp

Getting your young ones to branch out on their own is a tough thing to do, but it’s part of human nature, and in fact all nature.

It brings to mind an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which Opie plays with a new slingshot and accidentally kills a songbird. Opie then takes it upon himself to raise the mother’s baby birds, digging up worms each morning for Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod.

One morning, Andy calls Opie out onto the porch for a talk.

"You remember you took over this job because they lost their ma? Well, there is that one little thing that she would have done, and that’s to let them go. Let them be on their own, be free like they was intended to be," Andy said.

Opie worries, "But what if they can’t fly away? Maybe I didn’t do all the right things?"

He, of course, demonstrated what a responsible young man he was by doing his best to right a wrong and raise the birds, but he also learns a little about independence when he releases each one.

It’s the same thing we ask parents to do each summer as we head to 4-H summer camp.

By age 9, we know that children developmentally should be ready to attend five days and four nights of camp. It helps if they’ve attended shorter camps and sleepovers in the past, but we find that most kids do just fine even if they haven’t done those things.

Just like Opie learned, though, the toughest job is left to the parent.

As our busses pull out of the parking lot for Cloverleaf camp, most of the kids are cheering and already plotting fun with their friends. The parents waving goodbye have the toughest task: holding all the tears until we’re off.

While at camp, kids select their own clothes each morning, choose how to spend their pocket money and help out with chores. They’re expected to follow a schedule without being lined up with an entire class and escorted everywhere like school.

If something doesn’t go their way, the campers have to learn to work out problems with each other and to seek the help of 4-H leaders, teen leaders and counselors if needed.

During free time they can go rock hopping in the creek, splash down the waterfall, swim in the pond, or play volleyball or basketball with other 4-H’ers, or even just sit and chat with other kids. (We don’t have time to watch television, play video games or text!)

Camp is all about doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. It is exciting adventures, new friends and amazing memories.

Lots of kids will go back to school in August having watched a million reruns on television or having played 100 rounds of Candy Crush, but how many will be able to talk about conquering the climbing wall, flying on the zip line, panning for gold or making 200 new friends?

Some of those friends will be there for a lifetime, like the three who were at my wedding last summer.

So as Andy told Opie about his birds, "You did all the right things; I expect they’ll be able to fly."

Summer camp sign-up for youths who were at least age 9 by Dec. 31, 2013, is from 7-9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at the 4-H office in the Newton County Administration Building, 1113 Usher St., Covington. Space is limited.

Cloverleaf Camp at Wahsega on June 23-27 includes youths through sixth grade.

A $100 cash or money order non-refundable deposit saves your space. The remaining cost of $210 is usually paid in March and April, or you can request other payment schedules.

A credit-card machine may be available, but please call ahead to be sure we are operational by that date.

Sixth- to eighth-graders head to Wilderness Challenge Camp at Wahsega 4-H Center July 14-18 for $344, and seventh- and eighth-graders attend Junior Camp at Burton 4-H Center on Tybee Island July 14–18 for $329.

High school students have Senior 4-H Camp at Wahsega June 29–July 3 for $324 and Senior Extreme Camp at Rock Eagle’s Frank Fitch Pioneer Camp June 9–13 for $314.

Call 770-784-2010 with any questions, and we’ll see your child at summer camp!

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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