Wednesday, September 9, 2015

4 Questions to Help You Assess: Is My Child Old Enough for Summer Camp?

Parents often wonder if their children are old enough to go to a sleep-away camp. Beyond the obvious “it depends” consider these situations I’ve seen.

  • Two girls first attended camp for 3 1/2 weeks as 6-year olds, and returned to camp enthusiastically for many years.
  • A 7-year old came for a week and was exceedingly homesick.  She returned 2 years later and flourished.
  • A 6-year old camper was not at all homesick, but wasn’t able to participate in a large group setting where she needed to follow rules.  She returned at age 8 and enjoyed an outstanding summer.
  • An 11-year old came to camp for the very first time for seven weeks. She appeared timid when she arrived, yet after one week in a cabin she wholeheartedly embraced all aspects of camp and thoroughly enjoyed camp.
  • An 8-year old came to camp knowing only minimal English.  The girl was homesick the first two nights, but otherwise smiled broadly, made friends and her English improved dramatically.

The success of each camper was less age-dependent and more aligned with the child’s independence, his or her ability to participate in a group and the signals a parent sent to his or her child.

Mull over these four questions as you consider if your child is ready for summer camp:

  1. Has your child successfully completed a sleepover away from home?
  2. Can your child participate in a group without having attention focused solely on him and his needs?  Camp is a place where everyone takes turns clearing the dining table, each camper helps keep the cabin neat, swimming is only allowed at designated times and other group norms are necessary.
  3. Can your child be reasonably quiet for an extended rest time and after taps?
  4. Are you as a parent comfortable supporting your child and letting her try out her own wings without your constant vigilance?

These aren’t meant to be yes or no questions, as each can be enhanced just by being at camp.  But if your child has gone to several sleepovers and each time the host parent has called at 11 p.m. for you to pick up your son, he may not yet be ready for camp.  Or if your child is 6 or 7 and hasn’t yet learned how to participate as a member of a group, then you may want to wait a year before you register her.

On the other hand, a child doesn’t need to be pleading to go to summer camp.  A timid child may enthusiastically embrace camp. 

A family who offers positive encouragement and a child who is able to learn how to cooperate in a group is ready for the gift of sleep-away summer camp.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

You're Magical

The five seven- and eight-year olds giggled racing up the path to the archery field. I tried without success to keep up. Out of breath when I arrived, I took a seat beside the archery counselor, the five newest archers arrayed in front of us. 

I had reminded all five girls before heading up to the archery field that they needed to tie their hair back and that they must wear close-toed shoes. They could not participate wearing crocs. 

Yet as the counselor explained the rules she scanned the campers' feet, stopping as she saw Jenna's footwear. 

"You're wearing crocs."

"I don't have sneakers, " Jenna responded, "I guess I'll just have to watch then."

"Are you sure you don't have sneakers?"

A shrug of the shoulders, "I didn't see any."

Jenna's eyes welled up with tears as she sat quietly, her hopes of trying archery for the first time, dashed. 

Hmm, I thought to myself, any parent who sends a daughter to a one-week sleepaway camp with a trunk that a moose could hide in must have sent sneakers. 

"I'll be right back," I told the counselor. 

Arriving in Jenna's cabin, I heaved open her trunk and peered in at myriad zip-loc bags each neatly labeled, "pjs", "shorts", "T-shirts."  Below the clothing bags were an assortment of craft projects and below that extra bottles of sunscreen and bug repellant. Carefully working my way through the layers, I found at the bottom, a pair of brand new, never-been-worn, pink sneakers. I grabbed them and headed back to the archery field where four of the campers were receiving bows and arrows. 

Jenna saw me and a smile lit up her face. 

"You're magical!" she broadcast. 

I smiled in return; that was the best compliment I could receive from a camper. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dumpster Diving and Baby Birds

Walking by the camp office after breakfast, I was enthusiastically greeted with a shout from a petite camper standing by the dumpster, “Kate, come here! We need your help! Our cabin trashcan dropped in. Can you get it?” 

“No problem,” I quickly responded. 

I looked in and there was no trashcan in sight. 

“Are you sure? I don’t see a trashcan.” 

“Oh, I think it was dropped in yesterday. We can’t find it.” 

“Kate, there’s a baby bird on a rock by our cabin, what should we do?” 

And as I walked past the bathroom, “Kate, my toothpaste is too spicy. I can’t brush my teeth.” 

Which was quickly followed by, “Ow! My brush is stuck in my hair. Kate, can you get it out?” 

Each of these minor obstacles, was a refreshing reminder of simple pleasures— clean teeth, caring for other creatures, snarl-free hair, recovering a lost object— all of which each camper managed on her own with only a little guidance. And the trashcan? It was found where it had been left beneath a tree, no dumpster dive required.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

7 Favorite Gifts for Campers’ Care Packages 2015

As the camper ripped open her package, her shouts of delight were audible across camp.  She pulled out a book, “Yay, it’s my favorite series!!” she shouted, a smile lighting up her face.

Watching campers open packages at camp, I consistently see and hear the most gleeful exclamations when a book is pulled out.  This may be because only the most ardent readers receive books in care packages or possibly because books are the ideal gift to send to a camper.  Books are useful, engaging, and don’t create cabin clutter.

Here are 7 items girls have received at camp this summer and rated enthusiastically highly:
  1. Books: The Land of Stories series is getting high accolades from campers
  2. Comic books! 
  3. Friendship yarn: this is brightly colored, cotton thread that typically can be found in packages of 10 or 12 or more skein
  4. A new headband— an item that is much needed for anyone with long hair and often lost
  5. Uno card game— a tried and true favorite if your camper doesn’t already have a deck
  6. Stickers
  7. Fuzzy socks to wear to bed
And one item is sufficient.  Campers are often most excited just to see their names on the package list.

Best items you want to share for sending a camper?  Comment and let us know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Heading to Camp, Need Transition Advice

Summer camp is in full swing for many campers, and a whole lot more are beginning to feel the trepidation of heading to camp in the next week.  If you need a few tips to help you from now through opening day drop-off read on.

Enjoy your time with your camper this week! 

Play card games, share a craft, sit and cuddle.  You are both headed for a transition.  Children absorb the anxiety that parents radiate, so try to maintain your own sense of calm and confidence.  As you hang out with your camper, listen to the questions and concerns she may have.  Let her know it’s natural to feel nervous, but reinforce the confidence you have in her to meet new friends and immerse herself in camp.  

Many camps have websites with photos from the summer so far. Look at the photos together and share what she may be thinking.

Remain positive.  

If your camper is experiencing anxiety over homesickness from last year, acknowledge his anxiety. Reassure your child that each summer brings new opportunities and new faces.  There will be campers who have never been to camp before and your returning camper can help those campers learn the ropes at camp. Share a few strategies with your child to manage a difficult situation, whether it may be using pull-ups at bedtime or needing a nightlight or being nervous about not knowing how to swim.  Encourage your camper to talk with her counselor if she has a concern— the counselors are enthusiastic and supportive role models and caregivers for your camper.

Pack Light.  

Campers' days are filled with activities, and often their free time is playing a game of roots and rocks or other made-up games that don’t need any equipment. Save a few goodies, like a madlibs or a craft project to send to him in a care package while he is at camp.  Keep the trunk light and clutter-free.

Say Good-bye Cheerfully.

When you take your daughter to camp and are ready to say good-bye, look her in the eye and with a big smile tell her you will see her soon and are looking forward to hearing all about her time at camp.  Counselors are trained to scoop up campers and introduce them to camp. A book or an upbeat card left on her bed can be a fun surprise for her when she returns to her cabin.  

Turn around and walk to your car, don’t let him see you cry.  You are giving your camper an incredible gift.  It is usually much harder for the parent to leave a child at camp than it is for the child to get into the camping routine.

If you have any last minute concerns, check in with your camp directors.  Let your child make her own way in the precious present.

Monday, December 15, 2014

8 Easy Hanukkah Gifts or Stocking Stuffers for Your Camper

Hanukkah starts tomorrow night; Christmas is just two weeks away; and you could still use a few small ideas for your summer camper, right?

Any of these eight small gifts are perfect for stuffing into stockings or wrapping up one each night of lights.
  1. Water bottle— hot summer days may seems ages away right now, but water bottles are well-used at summer camps to keep active campers hydrated.  

  2. Stickers— often these are freebies from your favorite haunts.  Campers personalize water bottles and trunks with stickers and can never have too many.

  3. Note cards— while this one may be somewhat self-serving, if you would like to receive letters from camp, you can still find (or make!) fun cards or a letter writing kit to pack in your child’s trunk.

  4. Photo in a plexiglass frame— enjoy the photo now and pack it up come summer to place on a cubby by your camper’s bunk.

  5. Head lamp— a head lamp is a necessity at camp for reading after taps or seeing the sink while simultaneously putting toothpaste on a toothbrush.  

  6. Toothbrush case— speaking of brushing teeth, find a few colorful toothbrush cases and a soap case to keep bristles pine-needle free.

  7. Shower caddy— as you’re out shopping keep your eyes open for a small plastic “bucket” that can hold shampoo and soap and sit on a shower floor in the woods.

  8. Playing cards— campers can never have too many decks of cards!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tips for Terrific Off-Season Visits

Before the holidays fill your weekends, and before snowstorms limit your long distance driving, November is a great month to visit a camp friend.

While staying in touch online has its merits, there’s nothing like visiting in person to rekindle summer memories from tipping a canoe to catching a frog to the prank you played on your counselor.

A few tips for a great visit:
  • Share the driving. Find a mall or restaurant where you can meet halfway between your hometowns so neither driver has two full round-trips to manage.

  • If you have an older sibling ready to visit colleges, see if a camp friend may live nearby or on the way.

  • Send a photo to camp for their Facebook page, newsletter or Instagram stream.

  • Take along photos from the summer or other objects to get past the awkwardness of reuniting away from a cabin on a lake.