Is my child ready for overnight camp?
There is no magical formula to determine if your child is ready for camp. Some kids are ready at 7 while others may not be ready until they are 13 or older. Different children are ready at different stages of development. Here a few questions to think about to help you make your decision:
Has your child attended day camp programs or team sports?
Has your child spend a night or more away from their family?
What is your child's level of independence and responsibility? Can they brush their teeth, and get themselves ready with minimal guidance?
How easily does your child make friends? How easily does your child get along with peers?
Is your child comfortable telling adults her/his needs and concerns?
Is your child interested in being with a new group of children?
Does your child get anxious when talking about going away from home?
Does your child seem excited about overnight camp?
Does your child seem interested in the camp activities?
Are you ready for them to go away to camp?
How You Can Help Your Child Avoid Homesickness?
There are many things you can do before camp begins to help prepare your child for the camping experience. Start early in preparing your child for the idea of being away from home. Find out what expectations your child has, and what he or she is looking forward to and what seems a little scary. Stress the positive aspects of the upcoming session and coach them to share their fears with you and their counselor while at camp. Here are a few ways to minimize homesickness:
1: Involve your child
The single most important thing you can do to avoid major homesickness is to involve your child in the planning for camp. If you haven’t already talked to your child about his/her feelings about going off to camp and the length of stay, do it now. If a child feels forced to go to camp or abandoned while at camp, it’s a sure bet he/she will have very homesick feelings. Allowing your child to feel as though he/she had a voice in the decision to go to camp, goes a long way in avoiding such feelings.
2: Make a Pre-Camp Visit
Some children (and adults) fare better if they are able to see camp ahead of time. Consider visiting camp prior to your camping session to see and discuss what camp will be like. Be sure to make prior arrangements with the camp director. Visiting camp in the pre-season, reveals the lay of the land, but keep in mind, camp will appear deserted and lonely without people and camp program humming about. Our open house is a great opportunity to meet the staff that will be working with your child and see activities in operation.
3: Talk about Camp Ahead of Time
Discuss such topics as: group living, self care, oral hygiene, explanation for strange noises at night, different activities, doing chores, wearing shoes, having a buddy, using a flashlight at night. Bring up what children fear the most about venturing into the unknown, such as what if: I wet the bed?; no one likes me?; I don't like the food? I get sick?; I really miss you?; and Will I let you down? If you don’t have the answers, please contact us to discuss these situations.
4: Provide some practice time away from home
Going away for one or two whole weeks is a really long time for a child who has never been away from home before. Giving your child time away from home provides the opportunity to learn to deal with those feelings. Plan some sleepovers at a friend’s house, or with other relatives. If your child is involved in a youth group or scouts, let him/her go on a weekend group trip without you. The more times your child experiences time away from you, the easier it becomes. Remember, practice makes perfect.
5: Talk with your child about homesickness
Don’t just assume that your child will be able to deal with issues of homesickness alone. Talking with your child about these issues in the months before camp starts will help. Devise ways to help your child deal with those feelings. Suggestions such as staying busy, writing letters, talking with the counselors and directors are great.
6: Watch how you phrase things
Keep your conversations in a positive light. Don’t say things like you know they are going to miss home. Instead, frame it in ways that keep your child thinking positively. If you tell your child, “I sure hope you’re ready for this,” “I’m going to miss you so much I might not be able to cope,” or “I hope you don’t get so homesick you have to come home early,” you’ll be putting those negative ideas in your child’s head. You have to be careful what you say. Instead say things like, “I know you might miss home, but I know you can handle it,” “Sure, I’m going to miss you, but you’ll have a great time and I’ll be here when the session’s over,” or “If you start to feel like you’re missing home a lot, remember the ways to deal with it we’ve talked about and don’t forget your counselor is there to help you out”.
7: Have positive, reaffirming letters on the first day of camp
You can either send the letter in advance, or place it in the letterbox in the dining hall at check in. Load the letter with positive messages about how excited you are that your child is getting to experience camp. Remind your child of all of the fun activities that are going to happen. Reframing the time away into something else positive is also a great idea. Writing this kind of letter really helps.
8: Don’t make deals for early pick-ups or phone calls!
This is a common mistake well-meaning parents make all of the time. You may think that you’re comforting your child, but it almost guarantees your child will be homesick. Instead of focusing on adjusting and having fun at camp, your child will focus on your promise. Our staff help campers work through their feelings and make camp a positive experience for your child. Promising an early pick-up or phone call ties our hands and puts you on the spot. Increasing your child’s self-esteem and independence probably played a large part in your decision to send your child to summer camp. Please don’t undermine your own goals by making such a promise.
What do I do if I get a letter from my child at camp asking me to pick them up?
Nothing is harder for parents to see than a letter from their child saying that he/she is miserable. Often a parent’s first instinct is to hop in the car and drive to camp. Please don’t. If you receive a homesick letter, don’t despair. Remember, mail takes time to get to you. The letter will be two or three days old by the time you receive it. Chances are your child will be over it by the time you get the news. Of course, you are welcome to call camp for an update. Speaking with a member of the leadership staff or your child’s counselor should set your mind at ease. We’ll give you an update on how your child is doing and what we’ve done to help.
Do returning campers ever get homesick?
Returning campers could still experience some adjustment. Camp may initially appear different with new cabin mates or a new counselor so it is important to prepare returning campers for changes that may exist. Even though your camper has been to camp before, here are some tips. Returning campers may still experience homesickness due to a wide variety of changes at home. Talk about it with your child before you get to camp. This will help them to deal with their feelings and not have any hidden worries. Sometimes returning campers have to adjust to the changes at camp, different from what they remember. Different counselors, cabins and cabin mates. Talk with your camper about how changes can be even better. Campers who are returning are often the "experts" at camp. We encourage veteran campers to buddy-up with new campers, showing them around, going over our rules or how an activity progresses.
What will the camp staff do if my child is homesick?
Homesickness is a very real part of the adjustment that many children will make while away from their homes and families. We are sensitive to both the campers experiencing homesickness and to their families who miss them. We work hard to support families through this adjustment.
Every child is different. We treat each child as uniquely as we can. In general, we try to talk with the child and reaffirm that missing home is okay. We talk about things your child likes about camp and what activities they want. We know from experience that meal times, bed times, and free times are the toughest for campers missing home so we try to keep your child occupied during those times.
Our cabin counselors will work with your child for the first 24 hours. If your child continues to struggle, a member of the leadership staff will become involved. Normally, homesickness goes away within a couple of days as your child becomes immersed in the camp routine. If he/she does not appear to be responding to counselor or leadership help, a member of our leadership team may contact you for your ideas by Tuesday at lunchtime (if not before). We will discuss our options and plan of actions with you to attempt to make the camp experience a positive one for your child. Options may or may not include you speaking with your child. We feel it is important to inform and prepare your child that they will not be in contact with you during their stay at camp via the telephone. In the rare event that the decision is made that camp is not going to be a positive experience for your child, we expect that decision to be made together.