Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Managing a Tumult of Emotions

Spring is moving toward summer.  The branches are budding, tulips are blooming and first time and experienced campers are turning their thoughts to the summer.  Excited?  Maybe.  Nervous?  Undoubtably.  And the campers are equally excited and nervous!  Seriously, campers, counselors, staff and parents all likely to be feeling some measure of excitement mixed with nerves.  Consequently your home may have erupted in a tumult of emotions.  

Especially for first time campers, the reality of heading away to sleep-away camp looms larger and larger with each passing day.  Here are a few suggestions for guiding your child toward a positive first time overnight camp experience.
  1. Give your child the opportunity to speak up and you to listen
Perhaps he wants to tell you about the dream he had about camp last night.  Try to build in a few extra minutes in the morning to let him relate his feelings.  Or maybe someone at school told her that going away to summer camp is crazy— “that sounds so scary!”  Share an afternoon snack together and hear what she has to say about what she is feeling.
  1. Look at photos on the camp web site
Nearly every camp has a website with a plethora of photos from summers past.  Sit down with your child and go through the photos, taking the time to hear his reactions and questions.
  1. Select a trunk
Many campers pack there belongings in a trunk for the summer.  If you don’t already have one, now is a good time to find one.  Here are a few tips on finding a suitable trunk.  
  1. Be honest
Feeling nervous, scared and excited are all emotions that both new and returning campers are feeling right about now.  Acknowledge her emotions and let her know that what she is feeling is normal— kids all over are feeling very similar emotions as they too look towards summer camp.  If she asks, "What if I want to come home," here are a few responses to have in your pocket.
  1. Carve out time to prepare for camp 
Set aside time when the two of you can prepare for camp together.  Maybe you’ll take a trip to buy toiletries, or make a letter writing kit, or fill out his camp forms. Focus on an activity that will both help him prepare for camp mentally as well as give him a chance to talk about what he is thinking.  Whatever you choose make it a parent-child event. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Letter Writing Kit: ideal pre-camp project

Our physical mailboxes have become somewhat archaic, but at summer camp mail time can be an event unto itself.  Assembling a camp writing kit opens up a chance to talk about what your child is feeling about going to overnight camp and as a bonus creates a stepping stone to a successful transition.

Together search for the following:
  1. A writing box or writing folder— a shoe box works well, or a colorful folder with pockets. Either can be decorated, which often becomes a project unto itself.

  2. Writing paper — if you are channeling Martha Stewart you can make your own, but you may well have plenty of odds and ends of notecards and writing paper already on hand.  Gather them together and let your child select the ones she wants to take.  Help her pre-fold the paper to fit the envelopes. 

  3. Stamps — take a trip to the post office and let him pick out the stamp design.  Or go online where you can still buy the Disney Pixar collection.  If she will be writing family and friends outside of the country, remember to buy international stamps.  Now mailing a standard international letter or a postcard from the United States costs $1.15 regardless of destination country.

  4. Addresses — who does she want to write from camp? Who does he know that will write back?  You may want to select an aunt or uncle or teacher who is likely to return his correspondence, especially if he will be away for 2 weeks or longer.

  5. I find pre-addressed envelopes invaluable for 7, 8 and 9 year old campers, and pre-printed labels valuable for just about everyone at camp— including the camp director!  If you’re working on your child’s penmanship then she can write out the envelope addresses for herself, but otherwise, print out the addresses on labels or directly on the envelopes.

    In any case, have the addresses written out before heading to camp.  When a child has worked carefully on writing a lengthy missive of her morning and then the rest bell rings, she is unlikely to take the time to address the envelope before jumping into her bathing suit and running down to the lake.  So if you are looking forward to receiving her letters in your mailbox rather than when you open her trunk in August, you will benefit by pre-addressing the envelopes.

  6. Pencils with erasers and a sharpener — if your child is used to writing in pen then include pens, but often students use pencils exclusively for writing at school.  Including colored pencils gives her the option of decorating her letters as well— sometimes pictures are more expressive than words.  And I haven’t seen a cabin yet with a built-in pencil sharpener.  So if you think he’ll write more than two letters, it’s a good idea to include one.
Carve out some time with your child this weekend, and together assemble a summer camp writing kit.  You may be surprised what gets communicated before the letter writing has even begun.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Counselors Pack for Summer Camp

The sound of kids laughing as they run into the lake.  The wind through the pine trees as you drift off to sleep on your bunk.  Swapping riddles among a group of friends as you paddle a kayak. Whether you are headed to work at a summer camp for your 1st or 40th summer, take a moment to consider what is calling you to camp.

Summer camps can be as inspiring and engaging for the counselors as for the campers.  What do you want to get out of your camping experience?  To ensure you offer the campers your best as well as feel personally fulfilled, take a few minutes and jot down your answers to the following questions before you pack your trunk.
  1. What will you do to be the best counselor possible?

  2. Do you want to make time every night to ask each camper about his or her great moment for the day?  Or is your strength in recognizing and helping homesick campers having been there yourself?  Or perhaps you’re the high-energy counselor who can introduce five new games this summer. Pack your counselor goals in your trunk along with your shorts and you’ll be more likely to keep those aims top of mind.

  3. What do you need to keep your balance this summer?

  4. We all need balance when living with, supervising and instructing campers all summer.  Their young exuberance can be fabulous and refreshing or just downright fresh.  Decide how you are going to find space to keep a calm frame of mind. 
    Perhaps you need to find time to take a run every other day, or finally work for your swimming honor or lead an overnight trip.  Think about your goals and keep yourself fulfilled so you can be that best counselor possible for your campers.

  5. What can you bring to help you achieve both 1 and 2?
Finally, do you need to bring anything to fulfill your counselor and your personal ambitions?   Would a new pair of running shoes inspire you to stick to your running goal?  Is there a great book you want to pack to read to your campers this summer (Wee Free Men is a humorous read aloud for young teens—your campers may think you’re Scottish even if you’re from California). Do you have the best waders for going frogging?  Make room in your trunk.

When, oh so long from now, the last bugle echo recedes in August, stop again and think about the camp skills you have gained that are relevant for your college or employment career; more thoughts on that here: Counselors Benefit From Camp Too!

What are you packing for you and your campers this summer?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Time for Trunks!

Baseball opening day coincides with opening trunks to prepare for summer overnight camp.  Now that spring training is well underway it’s time to locate your camp trunk.

Don’t have a trunk yet?  No worries— here are the basics for purchasing and alternatives to purchasing a trunk whether you are headed to Minnesota, Maine or Michigan.

For campers who spend more than 2 weeks at overnight camp, the most common container for packing is a camp trunk.  It’s strong, reasonably good for organization, able to double as a card table for a game of Peon and has provided many campers over the years a way to reach the cabin rafters.  If your child is likely to continue as a camper, then it’s probably worth investing in a trunk.  

Trunk considerations when purchasing


Look for one that is strong— trunks take all sorts of abuse not the least of which is in shipping.  From the time a trunk is packed until it returns late in the summer, it’s likely to encounter a plethora of immovable objects.  

The strength of the trunk is probably the primary characteristic in the price of a trunk.  Well-made trunks will cost more.  Sadly the converse is not always true, so ask for brand name recommendations from your camp.  Have a brand you recommend?  Add a comment to this blog.


Most camps have standard height bunks and often campers store their trunks under the bunk. Find out the bunk height and trunk height before making your purchase.

Shelf or tray

Nearly all trunks come with a shelf or tray, which allows for great organization at camp whether as a place to keep socks and underwear or writing supplies.


Wheels are a nice, but definitely not necessary option.  They are helpful when rolling a trunk in and out of an SUV, but apart from that, rolling a trunk across the ground from a car to a cabin is a very bumpy event— most camp trunks get carried to and from cabins, ideally by campers and counselors.


Handles seem to be the most often forgotten feature in camp trunks these days.  Having hauled many different trunks from office to cabin, I have lifted only a few where the handle didn’t bite into my hand or cause the trunk to twist uncomfortably.  As stated above, you can hope that your camper or his counselors will be carrying the trunk to the cabin.  If you do find a trunk with comfortable carrying handles pass the word on!

Alternatives to purchasing a trunk

With all of the airline restrictions in luggage, campers who are flying to camp often ship their belongings separately from their own travel.  

Some camps offer options for campers with long journeys. Check with your camp about the following two possibilities:
  1. Renting or borrowing a trunk from camp for the summer.  This way a camper can pack in duffles or suitcases and transfer his or her belongings upon arrival.
  2. Storing your camper’s trunk at camp over the winter.  Some camp store empty trunks for the winter, so belongings can be taken to and from camp in suitcases or other luggage more suitable to traveling by plane.  In addition, your camper, if organized, can leave summer-only items like flashlights, stationary, bedside photos or even a camp blanket in the trunk for the winter.

A Cabin in the Woods Wakes Up

Lying half asleep on my cot, I hear the first stirrings of the day as the sunlight peeks into the cabin.  Those first rays of sun are accompanied by the chirping of birds, and soon followed by a cabin waking up.  Yes, truly, it seems as if the cabin themselves wake up each new day at summer camp.

First the rustling begins as campers move about half asleep on their cots.  A blanket slips onto the floor here, a sleeping bag doubling as a comforter swishes over there. Next comes the all out tossing and turning of campers, as one by one sleep drops from their eyes and their eyelids flutter open.  

Soon a book or a flashlight can be heard hitting the cabin floor with a thud as it is knocked from a cubby amid the restlessness. The clunk leads to a quiet giggle, which is accompanied by a whisper across the bunks and soon thereafter the quiet “thump, thump” of stuff animals being tossed from one bed to the next.

The giggles quickly compound and the chirping of the birds fades into the background as whispers and muffled giggles ping off the cabin walls.  A footfall on the wooden floor and the pitter-patter of small feet heading for the cabin door tap past my bedside as I keep my eyes closed, enjoying the sounds of a cabin coming awake.

As the cabin door creaks open, the reveille bell simultaneously rings out and the whispers quickly turn to happy voices and a cascade of laughter.

A cabin has awoken in the woods of Maine.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Top 5 Benefits of Camp

The snow may be piling up, but the days are lengthening— Think Camp!  Why camp?  Because overnight summer camp provides the foundation for many character elements we want to instill in our children.

Here are my top five benefits of summer camp:

Independence.  When a child needs to take care of the basics from addressing and stamping her own letters home to refilling the cornbread platter or changing out of her bathing suit and even (gasp!) hanging it up to dry, she is shaping her independence.  Independence is a skill that is vital to success throughout life and great preparation for that day in the distant future when she heads off to college.

Self-confidence.  Every day at camp a camper has the opportunity to try myriad pursuits whether holding the tiller of a sailboat for the first time or trying a new dive or leading a camp song by the campfire or feeding a goat.  Trying a new pursuit and working diligently to become proficient are the foundations of how we each build self-confidence.  Summer camp is a playground of new opportunities where every camper can try something new.

Precious present.  In a world of electronics and hustle and bustle we all need time to slow down and be immersed in the precious present.  Summer camp is a place to reconnect with the precious present as you hold a frog gently in your hands and watch it watch you.

Positive role models.  Most summer camps pride themselves on the care their staff bestows upon each and every camper.  Year after year young men and women return to summer camps to make positive connections with their campers.  One may help an eight year old perfect his baseball
swing. Another laughs with her campers heading to morning dip.  A third invites a quiet child to join in a game of spud.  Many sit quietly with campers by the water’s edge to watch the sunset.  We all need mentors and summer camps are filled with positive role models every child should have.  Plus according to this New York Times blog camp counselors can out-parent parents.

Camaraderie. How many times have I heard a former camper reflect nostalgically on camp saying, “I could be myself at camp, no pretenses like at school.”  Campers return summer after summer for the camaraderie they find among friends who accept them for who they are. 

Here are views from a few other folks who know something about camp and kids:
What are the benefits you see your child receiving at summer camp?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In a word: Relationships

A word cloud formed from blogs on the value of overnight camp for campers and counselors conveys the essence of camp, and perhaps, of life—relationships. 

Relationships with friends and campers and counselors, and yes with parents too.  

Relationships with counselors who live in the moment and serve as valuable role models for children. 

Relationships among campers who learn and grow to meet their potential, who arrive with trepidation and leave camp with memories and lives changed through the relationships they form each summer.

Relationships between children and parents who give the gift of summer camp knowing a child can gain more self-confidence and responsibility in a few weeks of summer fun than nearly anywhere else in life.

Look into an overnight summer camp experience for your child this year.  

The blogs on which this cloud are based: