Our Wildflower Summer


A homegrown summer camp helped us and our daughters blossom in ways we never expected.

When my daughters wrote a song and handed me a freshly picked bunch of daisies at the end of summer, the girls themselves seemed like sprightly wildflowers, full of joy and innocent abandon. During the summer, they had discovered the pleasure of being themselves and the beauty of diversity. The reason was Camp Wildflower.

The roots of Camp Wildflower grew out of conversations among six Latter-day Saint mothers from McLean, Virginia. We all agreed that our families looked forward to summer as a time to relax, refresh, and regroup, as well as to play. But the pressures and overloaded schedules of the school year had begun to spill into the summer. Our children were spending their vacations in ever more structured activities that carved up the hours and left little free time. Furthermore, some of these activities were expensive or seemed unduly competitive. Except for attending church, there were no opportunities to interact with other Latter-day Saint youngsters on a regular basis.

Was there an alternative—a way to give our children a rich but inexpensive summer experience that would be stimulating, educational, and spiritually rewarding? What alternative would provide the spontaneity, self-discovery, and quiet moments that make summer so unforgettable?

We decided to create an alternative. With our daughters, we formed Camp Wildflower—named to represent the colorful personalities and individual spirits of the nine girls, ages eight to eleven. Together we formulated our camp’s objectives: (1) to bond the friendships of girls with similar values; (2) to provide a supportive but flexible structure for encouraging practice of gospel principles; (3) to focus on simple, inexpensive, “old-fashioned” activities; (4) to share the mothers’ unique talents and skills in a familylike atmosphere; and (5) to have fun.

Working with a small group of girls who lived relatively close to each other helped to keep the camp manageable, focused, and accessible. Each mother then chose a week and a theme that best fit her talents and schedule: drama, American heritage, cooking, sewing, photography/scrapbooks, and nature/crafts.

Keeping the mornings free for the girls’ other scheduled activities, we decided to hold camp from 1:00 to 4:00 p. m. Monday through Thursday. The girls went to a different home each week; they had six weeks of camp, yet each mother was responsible for a total of only four afternoons. This not only helped the two working mothers involved in the group, who arranged for time off from their jobs, it also left Fridays free for family weekends.

Each day, Camp Wildflower opened and closed with prayer, and girls earned stickers for learning the Articles of Faith. In addition to the day’s events, there was free time to bounce on a trampoline, soar above the trees on a homemade swing, creep through a parachute tent, write in their journals, or pick wildflowers. The mother of the week provided a loose structure that encouraged creativity and camaraderie. She kept activities simple, remembering that the process was more important than the product.

During Camp Wildflower’s first week, for example, Kathryn Colton helped the girls produce Cinderella. It wasn’t elaborate, but it was enthusiastically performed and great fun. Costumes came from a “dress-up” box of old clothes, hats, wigs, and funny shoes. For scenery, the girls spent an afternoon creating a pumpkin carriage out of a cardboard box. After performing before a cheering crowd of invited family members, everyone celebrated with root beer floats.

Since the next week included the Fourth of July, the girls chose to learn more about America. Gerry Smith taxied them around Washington and Virginia for tours of several historic sites. Everywhere, people were impressed by the polite behavior and spirit of these girls in their handmade Camp Wildflower T-shirts.

During her week as camp leader, Lorraine Swift combined cooking with nostalgia. The girls sang in harmony, stenciled wooden recipe boxes, and collected recipes for foods they made that week, including strawberry pie, ice cream, pizza, and fudge. The week included dancing the swing at a fifties party.

For sewing week, Jackie Thomas took everyone to a museum of dolls clad in period dresses and national costumes. After tying a baby quilt and delivering it to a new mother, the girls used their own sewing boxes to make pincushions and small throw pillows. One eight-year-old, who had never threaded a needle, still sleeps with the blue lace pillow “made by myself!”

Since each girl had access to a camera, I asked them to take pictures during camp. During my week, we discussed ways of improving their photos, and I photographed each girl at her home. Then they sat under the hickory trees in our front yard and organized their pictures, summer awards, and mementos into scrapbooks that included personal testimonies, favorite scriptures, and poems. When we tired of cutting and gluing, we cooled off by swimming and fishing in a nearby lake.

For the last week, Cynthia Clark’s house became a craft workshop as the girls learned to make wildflower paperweights and other small items such as “I Am a Child of God” samplers. She led them on a nature hike and took them to a historic farm from the 1800s, where the girls carded and twisted wool into yarn.

Camp Wildflower concluded with a daddy-daughter lake party and campout that gave the dads a chance to relax with their daughters.

Did it all work? Were the girls able to become better friends, practice gospel teachings, rediscover simple pleasures, learn new skills, and have fun? A resounding chorus sang yes on all counts! Both mothers and daughters had a chance to freshen their minds and exercise their bodies as well as deepen their relationships. As the camp concluded, the girls were already anticipating Camp Wildflower II: knitting a belt, tap dancing, reading family journals, and visiting the grounds of the Washington Temple.

Another measure of our success is the number of friends and strangers who have asked for suggestions on setting up their own camps for both their sons and their daughters. One friend in Texas liked the camp’s adaptability, adding, “Here, we’d be making barbecue or piñatas!”

This does not mean everything went smoothly, however. We had frequent opportunities to hone our skills of cooperation, patience, and love. But we found strength in each other. When we pooled our creative resources, our daughters had a unique chance to glean from other mothers what they might not have learned at home. And we were surprised at how many of our own childhood activities, such as bicycle tours and butterfly hunts, were popular novelties to these computer-age children.

By simplifying everything we did and planning (but not overplanning) around weekly themes, everyone had more time to sit and talk with each other. Our wildflower summer blossomed into a cherished memory for each of us. We grew closer—both as sisters in the gospel and as mothers and daughters—by sharing summer’s magic and the wonder and exuberance of childhood.

[photos] Photography by Page Townsend Johnson, Jed Clark, and Don Riding

Page Townsend Johnson serves as a Primary teacher in the McLean Second Ward, McLean Virginia Stake.