First Time at Camp: Swift Nature Camp
There may be several months between the time that you select your camp, send in your deposit and the opening day. We all know that helping your child prepare for camp involves more than just packing their trunk. You want to make sure that your child is emotionally ready for this new adventure. Preparing your child is a delicate balance. While you want to talk about this exciting new experience, you also don't want to overdo it. With too much discussion, your child may seem to loose a sense of reality, and her expectations and fantasies may never be met, leading to disappointment. It's also possible that she could focus on her fears so much that they become overwhelming, leading her to focus only on how homesick she may be. Therefore, if there are several months before the beginning of camp, you may want to drop the subject until at least March or April. You will probably begin to receive pre-season information from the camp, and you can share these with your child in your discussions.
How to Talk About Camp
Be careful how often and which words you choose when you are talking about camp. Children have incredible radar, and they will pick up on your concerns and fears, even if you never say anything negative. You may want to pick up books or movies (try not to get the mean spirited comedies-camp is not like that) about camp. While many of the storylines are exaggerated, they can prompt discussion on how to handle issues that may arise at camp. Watch or read them together. However, make sure to pick up on the subtle signals that your child sends. If they seem put off by the books or videos, then drop the subject. Most importantly, make sure that you never use camp as a threat or in anger. It's important that you never seem like you're counting the days until your child leaves for camp. The words can linger longer than you think, and it will confuse your child about what camp is supposed to be. Your child should believe that camp is a fun experience and that is why you have chosen it.
* Do try to have your child meet us (Lonnie & Jeff) before camp begins.
* Do talk about the camp in a positive way, to let your child know that you believe camp is a safe, exciting place.
* Do try and arrange a play date with a fellow camper before camp. If this is not possible, try and establish a link through mail, e-mail, or phone.
* Do continue to have short separations, such as sleepovers with family and friends for good practice.
* Do allow your child to verbalize her concerns, even if they sound silly. You may learn about worries that you can easily resolve.
* Do talk to an experienced camper about the program. He or she can tell you what you will really need to pack, what you can leave at home, and what kids really wear, and do at camp.
*Don't introduce anything else new in your child's life. Try to keep everything as normal as possible, especially in the time close to the opening day.
* Don't try to squeeze in a family vacation just before camp starts. Plan to be at home for at least five days before your child leaves for camp to provide the comfort of a usual routine.
*Don't let your child suspect your concerns about his adjustment.
1) Let your child assume responsibility for her room and personal belongings.
At camp, children have responsibility for making their own beds and cleaning their personal area. They must keep track of their own belongings. They will be responsible as a group for cleaning up the cabin and sweeping it out on a daily basis. Help your child to learn basic housekeeping skills so that camp responsibilities are less intimidating. If your child is not already responsible for changing her sheets and making her bed, teach her how to do these things. Make sure that your child puts her dirty clothes in the laundry each day. Teach her the difference between 'dirty' and 'wet'. Explain to your child that towels, bathing suits, and clothes soaked by rain should be hung to dry before being put into the laundry. Taking responsibility for her belongings is an important lesson of camp. Practice putting away toys and books so she will know where they are the next time that they are needed.
2) Make personal hygiene a personal responsibility.
Before your child leaves for camp, insist that he assumes responsibility for teeth brushing, showering, and washing his hair without reminder. If this is difficult, make a chart for your child to check off each day. Reserve comment or reminders until the end of the week, and then review the chart together. For girls with long hair, make sure that they know how to brush it and remove tangles. Make sure to pack plenty of conditioner. For girls, one of the popular activities during rest hour is trying different hairstyles or hair braiding. While it's tempting to suggest a haircut for the summer, this transformation can be traumatic for many girls. It's better to practice at home how to keep long hair manageable at camp. Even if your child doesn't normally wear her hair in a ponytail, make sure to pack plenty of hair elastics to tie it back. In the heat of the summer, and while playing active sports, girls will want to keep their hair up.
3) Stay out of peer conflicts.
Learning to resolve disputes between friends is an important life lesson. Though we may want to ease the way for their own children, they need to learn that they are competent to solve their own disagreements with friends. When a child complains about a problem, instead of immediately offering a solution, let her try and figure out her options. Role play various scenarios with your child. The independence with help her when she is living with new people 24 hours a day.
4) Review money management.
If your child is taking trips and allowed to buy souvenirs, make sure he is comfortable carrying money and counting change. When you are out shopping, let him pay for purchases, and check that he has received the correct change before leaving the counter. At SNC we have a canteen that is open three times a week and we give our campers weekly allowance to teach them how to manage and budget. Camp store has fun stuff and items that your camper may need such as flashlights, ponchos, toiletries etc. Your camper will have a special camp store account from which he will be getting his packet money.
5) Practice problem-solving skills.
There are two issues that parents must help their child learn before camp. First, your child should learn to think before acting. Taking time to think about the problem and possible solutions before acting is a sign of maturity. Role play various scenarios with your child and encourage her to think of more than one solution to the problem presented. Let your child know that you have confidence in his abilities to handle the challenges of camp. Secondly, make sure your child knows that it is not just ok, but smart, to ask for help. It's a sign of maturity to know that you should ask for help, and it's the job of the counselors and staff to ask for help. Let your child know that there are many people at camp that can help her, and that she can always go to Lonnie & Jeff with a problem.
6) Just say no!
Make sure that your child understands that it's ok to say no, not just to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, but also to potentially dangerous situations. Practice what to say if your child is dared to do something that he knows would be off limits at home. Make clear to your child that any safety rule at camp has to be obeyed whether counselors are present or not. This means:
* No swimming without a lifeguard on duty
* Never using sports equipment without permission
* Never playing with ropes courses or riflery, archery, and gymnastics equipment without supervision.
* No matches or lighters
* No wandering away from camp or to off limits areas of camp.
Off to Camp
After months of searching, decision-making, preparation, and packing, the last night before departure for camp can be hectic and seem surreal. Here are some helpful hints
You want to avoid any disasters in the morning, so lay out what you and your child agree that she will wear in the morning. The emphasis should be on both physical and psychological comfort. Make sure that any new clothing is washed and that shoes are broken in. If you have any additional paperwork that needs to get to camp, place it in an envelope with your child's name on the outside. Put all camp supplies by the door so that you don't have to search for last minute items in the morning. Try to keep the night before camp a quiet evening. You want your child to be rested. Try to keep your child's regular bedtime and if necessary, linger a few minutes for last minute reassurance.
The best case scenario for the goodbye is a warm, quick hug and a few words of love. It is not the time for reflections on what everything means. Try to stave off tears until you are alone. Your child may be fighting his emotions, and may not be able to keep his own tears back if he sees yours. On the other hand, if you do fall apart, that's ok. You may be momentarily embarrassed, but it will pass. If your child starts to cry, remind him that you know it's hard to separate and that it's scary to try something new. Reassure your child that you are sure that she is ready for camp and that she'll have a wonderful time. It's not beneficial to you or your child to prolong this conversation. Ask one of your camp counselors to help your child get on the bus. Try to remember that separation may be difficult, but going to camp will provide your child with new opportunities for growth. Be assured that good camp programs are prepared to help children overcome homesickness, and they are ready, willing, and able to make sure your child enjoys this new experience.
Staying Connected to your child
Keeping in touch with your child begins even before she gets on the bus for camp and should continue the whole time that he or she is at camp. Keeping in touch with your camper is more than just sending cards, letters, and packages, but also what you say and how you respond to what your child tells you about camp life. The letters you write and the packages that you send will be your primary links to camp and your child, and you should make them caring, effective, upbeat, and fun.
Off to Camp
Sending your child to camp for the first time can provoke a range of parental emotions. You will probably feel proud, excited, and happy for your child embarking on a new experience. You may feel a bit of relief at the thought of a few weeks of freedom, and you may also feel guilty for feeling that way. You may worry that your child isn't ready for camp, or you may feel sad that your child is getting older and less dependent on you. You may feel all, some, or none of these emotions. Remember that it is normal to have any of these feelings, and it is also normal to have none of them.
What Your Child May Feel
In the weeks before the beginning of camp, your child may also be experiencing many emotions. She may be excited, confused, worried, or even bewildered. Make sure that you recognize that it is very reasonable for a child to be both excited and worried at the same time. To your child, camp is a strange place, and while everyone says that it will be a lot of fun, it does not have the same stability and comfort of home. Camp is like any other new experience, and your child will likely feel both thrilled and a little scared.
You don't have to be a camper, or a child to suffer from homesickness. When anyone is in a strange, new place, even if it is exciting and fun, it is normal to miss home. Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood. It is developmentally appropriate, is evidence of the loving, trusting relationship you have built with your child. Because your child loves and trusts you, separation can be scary. A camper knows that separation is followed by reunion, but emotionally, it can be difficult to accept. When in the midst of adjusting to living with new people in a new environment, children can get overwhelmed. Even for children who enjoy new adventures and love sleepovers with friends and relatives, a short bout of homesickness is a common reaction.
It is important that you don't measure your success as a parent by your child's adjustment to camp. Even if your child has a difficult time adjusting to camp, it does not mean that you have failed to create an independent child. It may be difficult to understand how hard your child finds the first few days at camp. At times, it's almost as if your child believes that he or she will never see you again. Put your child's reaction into context. She may not be looking for a logical response from you, rather, what she wants is comfort and reassurance. Remember that even adults don't always act logically when they are very anxious. Homesickness is not about your child loving or trusting you enough, or about her independence or willingness to take risks. Homesickness is a temporary situation that she can overcome with the support of adults. And when a child overcomes homesickness, it is an enormous boost to both self-confidence and self esteem.
Why Isn't My Child Crying?
It is just as important not to be upset or worry if your child sails through camp without any homesickness, or even a backward glance. This does not mean that you failed to develop a strong attachment, and it also does not mean that he or she doesn't love you enough to care about not being at home. If your child handles separation well, you should enjoy it. Remember how excited they will be to see you upon their return.
Who Will Cry?
Separation is about change, and will affect some children more than others. You probably already know if your child adapts to change well, or is more likely to suffer a strong case of homesickness. Ask yourself about how your child reacts to new situations and new things. It is not that a shy, more reluctant child will not adjust to camp, it just may take a little more patience and reassurance to adapt to this change. Some children will adjust faster than others. This is not something to worry about. Knowing how your child adjusts to change can help you to be realistic about how the first part of camp will be like, so that you can be ready to help your child successfully cope with the adjustment to camp.
Don't be afraid of crying. Lonnie & Jeff agree that it's often easier to deal with a child who is upfront about being homesick and cries than the child that is homesick and withdrawn. While no parent wants to hear that their child is crying, take comfort that your child is willing to share his problems with other adults and is asking for help.
Sometimes a child will enter camp and have no problems for the first few days, then be hit by a bout of homesickness. It may be that the novelty of camp has worn off, and the child can now focus on separation. Though this can be frustrating, these bouts usually pass quickly with the patience and reassurance of both staff and parents.
It is not unusual for a child to have problems with homesickness when you visit them. However, as your child gets back to the daily routines and excitement of camp, this anxiety will pass. Because phone call often cause this same feeling we do not allow phone calls. We ask that you do not come to visit before a week or so has passed. Remember not all families stop by ...less that 20 % come to visit, so do not feel obligated.
The Preemptive Strike Against Homesickness
Just as you discuss other camp issues with your child, you should be up front about homesickness. Your child should understand that feeling homesick is a normal emotion, and that even if he is homesick, he can still have a good time. You should remind your child that you are confident that he will enjoy the camp experience even if he misses you. Encourage your child to share your emotions with his counselors and Lonnie & Jeff. However, as you are talking about homesickness with your child, make sure that you do not act as if you expect a problem or encourage them by saying "I'll come save you if you are homesick". If you over-prepare your child, you may undermine their self confidence. Talking to your child about homesickness is a fine line that you must walk carefully.
There are some things that you can do before your camper leaves home to help them cope with homesickness. You can role play situations with your child that he or she may encounter while at camp. Make sure that in addition to putting a letter in your child's luggage, send a few letters to camp a few days before your child leaves so that she will find mail when she arrives. Try to write every day so that there will be a steady stream of cards and letters at each mail call. If you have any reason to suspect that your child will have difficulty adjusting, talk to the Lonnie & Jeff before your child arrives at camp. This way, we can keep a special eye out for any sign of problems.
Your Child is Homesick: Now What?
Even though you may have expected it, it's still upsetting when you get a homesick letter from your child telling you that he's having a horrible time and that he wants to come home immediately. While you may want to rush to the rescue as quickly as possible, stop yourself. The best thing that you can do for your child is to call Lonnie & Jeff. Your call may be the first clue to them that your child is having problems. This is not because Lonnie & Jeff are uninvolved. Most likely, the case is that your child is not as intensely homesick as the letter suggests, your child is masking his homesickness, or that the bunk counselors have been able to cope without involving the Directors. If you have only gotten one homesick letter, it is quite possible that the intense emotions that prompted the letter have passed.
Tell Lonnie & Jeff about your letter and concerns, and ask him to investigate the situation and get back to you. We will not whitewash the situation, but will put it into perspective. Lonnie & Jeff will tell you what they are doing to ease the situation for your child at camp. Usually, the plan involves keeping the child busy and involved in the camp program so that they are too busy to focus on being homesick.
The message you send to your child when he is homesick should be clear. Let him know that you are sorry that he is sad, but you believe that he will enjoy the experience. Let your child know that you are proud of them and you want him to stay at camp and that everyone at camp wants to help him succeed.
The Game Plan
Parents need to be in agreement that they will stay with their decision that their child will complete their stay at camp. The first thing that you must do is to trust the judgment of the Directors who can see first hand what is happening. You have to believe that we will put the situation into perspective based on years of experience. Our camp has a 'no phone' rule, yet we may offer you the opportunity to speak with your child if the we believe that it would be beneficial. However, if the rule is no telephone calls, you should not insist on talking to your child after receiving a sad letter. Your child may think that if the no telephone policy can change, then the whole idea of camp should change as well. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind.
* Do make it clear that you understand and sympathize with her feelings.
* Do encourage her to continue to express her emotions to you in letters.
* Do advise her to share her feelings with the camp staff.
* Do stress that you have confidence in her ability to stay at camp and have a good time.
* Do point out that you believe that the camp staff will help her through this tough time.
* Do remind her that you made this decision about camp together and that she made a commitment to stay at camp.
* Do review the coping techniques you had discussed before she leaves for camp.
* Don't remind her about how much money the camp costs.
* Don't embarrass or ridicule her by suggesting that this is babyish behavior.
* Don't compare her to her siblings or friends.
* Don't suggest that she ignore her feelings or that she is being overdramatic.
Convey your thoughts in a letter. Explain that you are in touch with the camp staff and that you are working with them to help her to succeed and that you will be checking with Lonnie & Jeff regularly to hear about her progress. You may also want to try to put the situation in perspective. Try to get her to see how short a time period you are talking about. Some children may also find it helpful to keep a journal, so that she can write down how she is feeling and see the progress that she is making.
When To Call It Quits
Is it ever right to say that it isn't working and bring your child home? Sure, but you must make this decision with a great deal of thought and awareness of the long-term consequences. Campers who come home before the end of their stay often feel like failures. However, sometimes, even with the best of intentions and efforts on the parts of the parents and staff, a child is just not ready for camp or it's just not a good fit. If, after a real trial (a week is not long enough), and the best efforts between home and camp your child is clearly not adjusting, it's time to bring the camper home.
If you make the decision to bring your child home, hopefully in agreement with Lonnie & Jeff, then you need to support your child fully through what he may think is a failure. Don't go through an intense reevaluation the day he comes home, but after a few days, you should sort out what went right and what went wrong with the experience. Help your child to understand that even though the camp experience was disappointing, he is not a failure because he came home. Let your child know that you may reconsider another sleepaway camp program at another time because you have confidence in him.
Keeping In Touch
Cards, letters, and care packages help children to adjust to camp. They are bridges between home and camp, as well as a means of reaching out and connecting to bunkmates. Writing the first camp letters are tricky. You want to let your child know that you love and miss her, but you don't want to overdo it so that she is overwhelmed with guilt and homesickness. You want to tell her what is happening at home, but you don't want to make it sound like so much fun that she wishes that she were there instead of at camp.
Like any good letter writer, you should first ask about what's happening there. Since you should have a good idea about what camp is about from your pre-camp research, you can ask specific questions like about the waterfront, meals, or other activities. You can talk to your child about life at home. Look for anecdotes about friends, the neighborhood and the town to share. Your letters don't have to be long. In this case, quantity is better than quality. There are some parent proven tips that you can use when writing your letters:
* Alternate your letters with funny greeting cards.
* Include Jokes, Riddles, Puzzles, or News Clippings.
* Limit Criticism ; Save any negative discussion for when your child gets home, it's hard to have meaningful dialog on paper.
* Pre-Address Envelopes ; It will make your child more likely to write home.
* Make Writing Fun; Include fun stationery, pens, and stickers.
* No Grammar or Spell Check ; Don't comment on your child's writing, spelling, or grammar in letters home.
* Be Realistic ; Understand that your camper may not write much, well, or often. Many children are so excited about all of the activities at camp that they just don't take time to write.
* Stay in Touch ; Continue writing to your child, even if you get one line or no letters in return.
When the News is Bad
Sometimes, you will have unfortunate news that you need to share with your camper. Before you write a letter detailing the situation, consider if you must share the information at this point, or if it can wait until your camper returns home. If there has been an accident in town, if you or your partner has lost your job, or if the family pet is ill, you may want to wait to discuss these issues face to face. However, if it is an emergency, such as a close family member has died or is very ill and you believe your child needs to know, call and talk it over with Lonnie & Jeff first. This way, you can make sure that there is an adult with your camper who can give him emotional support when he receives the news. You'll also want to discuss with us what you want to do next. Do you want your child to come home permanently or temporarily? We encourage children go home for an emergency and then return. It may be the best thing for your child . Let us help you to assess your child's emotional health and offer support if she returns to the program.
We have a strictly enforced no-food rule and ask campers to open their packages in front of a counselor. We do this in order to keep critters out of living spaces. Food in cabins can attract ants, bees, mice, raccoons, and even bears in some areas.
Good care packages include comic books, books, stickers, crazy hats, and generally any toy you might find as a party favor. You might send clothing or decorations to help celebrate the Fourth of July. Your camper might request something for a talent night or other all camp event, or he might need batteries or toiletries. Though some of these things can be purchased in the camp store, for most campers, getting a care package is just more fun.
What if there is a problem?
If your child complains in person or by letter about a counselor, bunkmate, or even continuing homesickness, you want to empower your child to believe that she can handle the problem and find a solution. If your child has a problem, you should:
*Listen carefully and respectfully to your child's complaint.
* Offer comfort and acceptance of any of the emotions she may feel.
* Provide a clear message that coming home is not the answer.
* Encourage her to believe that she can problem solve any issue, and that it is a sign of maturity to ask for help.
* Remind her that the camp staff is there to assist. Even if the problem is with her own counselor, point out that there are others on staff like Lonnie who are here to listen and help.
Please remember we are here to make every child's experience the best so for any serious problem speak to us immediately.
Camp Sick--Coming Home
When the camp season is over, the same child who shed tears for leaving home may cry when leaving camp. The reentry home can be hectic, but there are four things that you should do when your child arrives home to make things easier:
1) Check for lice; If you discover this before your child gets back into the house, cleaning is much easier and involves fewer items. Though the camp health staff will have checked for head lice, it's better to be safe than sorry. We have NEVER had an occurrence but better safe than sorry.
2) Sort and toss; Go through camp clothes, discard those that are beyond hope, to save yourself washing an item that is irreparable or badly stained.
3) Check for all equipment; Check the packing list to make sure that all important items returned home. If not, call and ask us to check for the lost items. Unless expensive, we do not return items and donate them to charity.
4) Store in a safe place; Store the trunk and the equipment that your child needs for camp in the same place. Write notes to remind you about what your child needed, and what wasn't used for packing next year.
Your child will be tired, likely in need of a bath, excited, missing her camp friends, eager to see her friends from home, and hungry. While you want to talk about camp with your child, remember that it may be hard for them to sort out in the beginning.
Some tips are:
* Give your child some space and time to sort through the experience and then talk about it.
* Avoid, if possible, leaving immediately for vacation. Try to give your child a day or two at home
* Encourage her to keep in touch with camp friends via Smorecamp.com
* Encourage your child to make a scrapbook of the camp experience to preserve the camp memories.
Planning Ahead For Next Season
Parents are now sometimes surprised that their once eager camper begins to question their return to camp sometime around January. One of the best ways around this is to sign up in the fall, that way you also get a discount. If you decide to wait your child may remember homesickness and brief periods of unhappiness. Its best to reassure your child that this is typical. Take out the camp scrapbook and talk about the fun times at camp. Acknowledge that though homesickness can reoccur, it passes much more quickly the second summer.
We hope that you found these notes helpful and if you still have any questions or concerns, please call us and we will be happy to help.
Lonnie and Jeff Lorenz