Friday, August 15, 2014

Photo Journal of a Summer Camp Lake

You think YOU miss camp?  What about me— a summer-camp lake?  We summer-camp lakes yearn for the long days of summer with campers splashing and diving, kayaks and canoes gliding and sailboats heeling and even capsizing into our clear waters.  Here, let me show you… 

Before reveille the fog gently lifts.

Quietly campers gather along the beach to dip into my cool waters and rinse the sleep out of their eyes.

Soon it’s all hustle and bustle— canoes, rowboats, kayaks, water-skiers and torrents of swimmers.

The scene quiets down for a bit in the middle of the day and occasionally a passing rainstorm ripples my surface.

In the afternoon, screams of delight cascade over my waves as campers cool off by plunging down a slide or slipping on a water mat.

As the sun sinks lower, rowboats quietly glide across my still waters.

Then, with the setting sun, comes a few hours of tranquility before the campers once again dive in.

See what I mean?  It’s not easy begin a summer camp lake as autumn approaches.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pickup Day Patience

Pickup day is around the corner.  Moms, dads and grandparents are eagerly anticipating watching their camper running enthusiastically toward their outstretched arms, jumping up in a big monkey hug and exclaiming, “Yay! You’re here! I have so much to tell you about camp!” 

Those parents and grandparents need a more realistic view of pickup day before they are disappointed in the lackluster greeting that may await.  I have seen campers barely acknowledge their parents’ presence, let along offer a greeting, when pickup day arrives.

Campers are immersed in their own world, a world that for many children is not meant to intersect with their family or hometown friends or any other external touchstones.  Camp is theirs and seeing their parents at camp may be jarring at best.

While some campers do greet their parents with a hug and a smile, many walk up warily, may not make eye contact and seem to forget all their manners as parents nudge them to say “thank you” to their counselors.  Some even break into tears as they realize their summer surrounded by camp friends for 24 hours a day is coming to a close.

So what’s a parent to do?  
First, acknowledge that your presence as a parent may be discomfiting to your child.  As thrilled as you are to see your child, try to keep your excitement under wraps if you recognize that your enthusiasm is not being returned. 
Second, her lack of attention to you is likely a reflection of her attachment to her camp friends, not her diminished love for her parents.  Let her acknowledge your presence in her own time and in her own way. 
Third, restrain from peppering your child with questions as you load up the car.  Give him a chance to say his own good-byes while you distract yourself talking with the camp director or other parents or packing the car.   
Fourth, while good manners should not be overlooked, now may not be the best time to reprimand your child for not making eye contact or greeting his younger brother with a hug. 
Finally, be patient.  There will be plenty of time, perhaps on a long drive home down the east coast, to hear her stories.  You have ten months before she heads back to camp— plenty of time to converse about her summer on the lake.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Fun Summer Camp Packages

One of the great benefits of summer camp is living clutter-free. Yet there is great happiness at mail time seeing your name is on the package list.  So when you put together a care package for your camper this summer, keep in mind that receiving a package often is more exciting than any specific contents could possibly be.  One creatively-decorated package with a few camp-friendly items is great treat for your summer camper.

Here are some ideas to include in an easy, fun package:

  • A book.  Perhaps the next book in a favorite series or a joke book for sharing with cabin mates.
  • A sticker to add to her trunk if she has one. 
  • Notecards.  Find fun ones made for campers and add some small stickers so he can decorate the cards himself.
  • A craft.  Choose wisely.  Crafts that work best have few parts and no paint.  
  • Speaking of crafts... if your camper enjoys making friendship bracelets then a few more spools of thread in bright colors are always welcome.
  • A deck of cards.  Cards are a great cabin pastime and a new, full deck may be just what the cabin needs after playing 100 rounds of Peon and bending a few too many cards.
  • Water bottle.  It's been a wonderfully warm summer in many states, so if your camper doesn't already have a water bottle on hand, he would likely appreciate one.
And some tips when mailing your package:
  • Check out regional rate boxes from the US Post Office for mailing your packages.  If your camper attends a camp within a state or two from home, then these rates are a great value.
  • The box or envelope is part of the package so decorate the shipping container too!  Get out your indelible markers and a box of stickers and be a child again as you decorate.
  • Have fun packaging up what's in the box.  Put sticky notes on each item with knock-knock jokes or wrap the items up in colorful pages from recycled magazines.
  • Verify any do's and don'ts from your camp.  Most camps do not allow food to be sent to campers for a multitude of sound reasons, not the least of which is helping your child have a healthy summer.  So check if there are any items that cannot be sent.
The whole experience makes receiving a package fun at summer camp.  Also check out Writing Your Summer Camper .

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Day Of Camp Preview

What’s the first day of camp like?  Fun, bewildering, emotional, tumultuous, exhilarating, stressful, fabulous.  Whether you’re returning for your 10th summer or arriving for your first, you are likely to be feeling a swirl of emotions.

Help minimize your camper's anxiety by talking through what she or he can expect on the first day of camp.  Many camps may have some or all of the following activities as campers arrive on opening day, also check you camp website to see what arrival may be like.

Counselor Greeting— as you arrive at camp whether in your parent’s car, a camp bus, or a van from the airport, there are likely to be counselors enthusiastically welcoming your arrival.  Counselors arrive days before the campers to help get camp ready and they are so excited to greet you and get to know you!

Health Check-in— most camps have newly arriving campers visit the camp nurse as they arrive to ensure all of your medical forms are in order and to answer any medical questions parents or campers may have.

Cabin Settling — camps have a variety of ways to introduce each camper to his or her cabin and cabin-mates. You will may have a chance to unpack a few belongings around your bunk, maybe hang up your swim towel and put a favorite stuffed animal on your bed.

Quick Goodbyes— if your parents have brought you to camp, there will be time for a quick hug and good-bye before a counselor eagerly takes you to meet other campers and join in first day activities.

Get-to-know-one-another Games — there will likely be games so you have a chance to get to know the names of some of the other campers and counselors and where places are around camp.  Some campers are very nervous that they won’t be able to find the dining hall or get back to their cabin— you needn’t worry— counselors and staff are at camp to help you make the transition and find your way around.

Refreshing Dip — if it’s a hot day your camp may have time for a dip in the lake or the pool.  All camps have important rules about behavior around the water that they will share with you.

All Camp Dinner — in general, the whole camp will gather together for dinner whether in a dining hall or outdoors, a hot meal or a casual supper.  Counselors will help you find your way and ensure you have a place to sit if you’re not certain where to go.

After Dinner Assembly or Campfire — quite often camps have an all camp gathering the first night— maybe the camp will play a game, or learn songs, or have a campfire.  Whatever the tradition at your camp the counselors and staff will be there to help you get to where you need to go and lots of returning campers will help you learn the words to camp songs and other camp traditions.

These represent the general type of activities that many camps have on opening day. Read through the material your camp has provided for details on your camp’s first day activities.

Check out Managing a Tumult of Emotions to encourage your child to talk about her feelings as well as A Smooth Camper Drop-off to help the parents on opening day. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

School Camp Overlap

The end of the school year is colliding with the beginning of camp. You need to make some decisions about whether to miss the culminating school events or introductory camp days.  What’s a parent to do?

First, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.  You need to do what works best for your campers.

Some elements to consider:
  • Does your child get more stressed by not having closure or is she nervous about late arrivals?
  • Is this year a milestone year at either camp or school?
  • What would he actually be missing in the final days of school— exams that are his springboard for college applications or a few days of cleaning out desks and lockers?  And what would he actually be missing in the first few days of camp? 
  • What are your commitments as a parent during the final days of school for your camper or her siblings?

Take the time to talk through the trade-offs with your child now, so when school ends and camp begins, your camper isn’t overly anxious about the choice that’s been made.  And remind yourself and your child that it is valuable to set priorities and make decisions.  You can’t dance at two weddings with one tush!

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.