Preparing Your Camper (and Yourself) for Camp
Greetings from the Northwoods!
It’s getting to be that time of year when the reality of the fact that your daughter is heading off to summer camp starts to sink in. There are forms to fill out, physicals to be had, supplies to be purchased and packed, and anxieties to be calmed. Believe me, I get it. Those of you who have been following the blogs know that I sent my daughter to camp when she was younger and this year she’ll be a second-year counselor at Nicolet.
I had never been to camp as a kid and had no idea how to navigate my way through all the options, which questions I should be asking, and how I would know if it was really the right thing for her. Lex had gone to several shorter camps before we found Nicolet through the all-mighty Google search, but we were looking at FOUR WEEKS here people! We didn’t know anybody who had been and we hadn’t met directors or alumni at camp fairs; heck, we didn’t even see an advertisement in a reputable camping magazine or website. After the initial search, I did call and speak with Georgi and for some reason, I knew immediately that Nicolet was where I wanted Lex to have her first real traditional camp experience. Who wouldn’t feel that way after speaking with Georgi, right?
Getting ready for that first summer was rough for me. I couldn’t call and talk to my daughter? In the dawning age of social media, where I get instant updates on what everyone I know had for lunch, I had to wait to get snail mail? Are you kidding me?! How would I know she was alive and breathing? How would I know she wasn’t miserable and didn’t spend her days curled up in a ball on her bed, refusing to become involved in anyone or anything? And did you really just say that internet isn’t always reliable so I might not even get hourly photo updates? Um…no. Okay, so I’m being a bit overdramatic here, but you get my point. It’s scary stuff, right?
To help you through this time, I thought it would be a good idea to provide some tips of the trade…
- Send your camper on sleepovers – this is especially important if she isn’t used to being away from home overnight. The more experience she gets with this, the more prepared she’ll be for her time at camp. The more you get used to going to bed without checking on her one last time, the better you’ll feel when she boards that bus or you drop her off at what will soon become her second home.
- Involve her in the decision making process – kids are accustomed to being able to have a say in their daily lives. If they feel that they are being forced to go to camp, they often rebel by refusing to let themselves have a good time. Give them information about camp, let them help choose their activities, talk about the daily schedule, and let them help you do the supply/clothing shopping. Keep them involved and give them ownership of the experience.
- Make sure you both have realistic expectations. Just like everyday life, there will highs and lows at camp. Our goal is to help campers enjoy the great times and learn from the difficult. Also be sure to talk to her about your expectations of each other, such as how often you’ll write and what you want to hear about.
- Know that homesickness is completely normal and talk about that with her. Help her to make a plan for how she’ll handle feelings of homesickness. Will she seek out a counselor for help? Will she write a letter home? Tell her about a time you felt homesick and what helped you through that situation. Two very important things NOT to do when talking about homesickness:
- DO NOT promise that you will pick her up after she gives it a certain number of days. This always backfires and ends up with the kiddo holding onto that and actively trying not to have fun or become engaged in camp life.
- DO NOT tell her about your own insecurities and anxieties about her being away from home or how much you (or her brother, or her dog, or her pet turtle) will miss her. Often we think that sharing in a sad feeling will make someone feel better, but this will only make her worry more about home. As much as we want to care for them, they are also highly aware of their own need to care for us. Stay positive and excited. She’s going to have a blast and YOU ARE AWESOME for giving her this opportunity!
- Get pumped up! Summer camp is an amazing experience. Yes, she will be taken out of her comfort zone, but it will be done in a way that allows her to grow toward her full potential. Whether it’s reaching out to a friend in need, learning a new skill, or starting to realize her own self-worth and resiliency, she’s going to have a blast doing it. Help create excitement at home by marking days off on a calendar, watching the Nicolet youtube videos, or checking out all the photos on Facebook.
- I was only going to list five, but this one is important: take some time to think about yourself. What do you want to do during her time at camp? It is okay to allow yourself to enjoy the time apart. Maybe that’s a vacation or date night, reconnecting with old friends, or taking a class in which you’ve always been interested. Whatever that looks like for you, do it!
When I picked Lex up that first summer I noticed something different about her right away. She had this whole world that was separate from mine. She had friends, respectful relationships with other adults, took time to think through choices and make decisions, and SHE MADE HER BED! Okay, that lasted for like a week, but it was impressive nonetheless. She continued to return to Nicolet each summer and the growth that she achieved blew me away every year. Whether it was independence, resiliency, self-awareness, or interpersonal skills, there was always something I noticed following camp that had more fully developed within the time that she was there. And the really cool part was that she didn’t even know it was happening. Camp allowed for her grow and learn without feeling like she was being taught. It’s amazing for me to look at how time has flown and see her making her way through life as a college student now. Her transition to college, while difficult (and let’s be honest here, reducing me to a mess of tears), was nothing compared to that first summer I sent her to Nicolet and I know that it is because of her time at camp.
Camp does a world of good and your commitment to preparing both your camper and yourself for this experience starts that development before she even arrives on that first day. As always, if you need any advice or have any questions, we’re here for you. Give the office a call or shoot me an e-mail. We’re always happy to help.
See you soon!