Published- December, 2005
One of the wonderful benefits of summer camp is the opportunity for a child to develop independence while in a supportive community. Many successful adults look back on their camp experience as a fundamental building block in their personal development. Michael Eisner, a former CEO of the Walt Disney Corporation, recently wrote a book about the meaningfulness of his camp years, appropriately entitled “Camp”.
Developing independence while at camp may mean overcoming a degree of homesickness for some children. As I look back on nineteen years of directing a summer camp, some of the campers that got the most out of a camp experience were the ones that struggled with homesickness to one degree or another. It could be as simple as being uncomfortable with new surroundings until fun activities begin in earnest, or it could be more pronounced and last for several days with a copious amount of tears and heart wrenching letters home. Either way, homesickness can be (and normally is) a good thing.
Camp staff are experienced with helping campers move past homesickness. Normally a camp will work on getting the camper active and involved, helping the camper meet new friends, and letting them know that it is normal to have these feelings. Many camp professionals will encourage homesick campers to write down their feelings in a letter home. If you receive a letter from camp that is less than positive, don’t worry too much. Homesickness is usually over by the time you receive the letter.
Homesickness is not always exclusively for children. Parents can also have an adjustment to camp as well; instead of being “homesick”, they are “campsick”. If you feel that you might fit into that category, establish a relationship with the camp prior to opening day to improve your comfort level. You should be able to call camp (but not your child) with any concerns or about your child’s progress at camp. These days, lots of camps post daily pictures of campers at camp. Seeing a picture of your child smiling and having a great time might be all that it takes to cure your “campsickness”!
The foundations of a successful camp experience are often laid months before opening day. Here are some things you can do as a parent to help set your child up for success at camp:
- Involve your child in the decision about camp. While a camp experience is a wonderful experience for most kids, it is not for everyone. If, after your best efforts, your child says “I don’t want to go to camp”, you might want to look at an alternative for the upcoming summer. Maybe when his friends report back on their camp experience he will be ready for the next summer.
- Familiarize you son or daughter with camp. Visit the camp if possible, look at the camp DVD, and visit the camp website.
- Never tell a child he can leave early if he doesn’t like camp- it sets him up for failure and he will focus on the “deal” instead of the experience.
- Have your child attend camp with a friend if you suspect it might help the transition.
- Send encouraging letters telling her how proud you are of her accomplishments. Keep the letters focused on camp and not on things that are happening at home. Especially avoid writing about an event she would have liked to attend or saying how much she is missed or the “dog misses you”.
- Give information to your son’s counselor beforehand about what works for him.
- Don’t linger at camp too long on opening day. Staying too long just delays the transition to new surroundings and can add to your daughter’s anxiety level.
- Most camps have a policy regarding phone calls. Help your child understand the policy prior to camp so they will not be expecting to hear from you.
Follow these guidelines and the foundation for a successful camp experience will be in place for your child.
Camp Director 1988-2012, Camp High Rocks for Boys
Mr. Birdsong has been involved in Summer Camping for 30 years and has been a camp director for nineteen years. He has served on the National Accreditation Committee of the Association for Experiential Education and served on the BSA National Camp School staff.