Summer is here, and for most 4-H families, that means camp is on the horizon. If this will be your child’s first summer camp experience, you and your child both may have some camp anxieties. But never fear! Here are some simple steps you can take to prepare your camper (and yourself) for camp:
• Plan several sleep overs before the week of camp arrives. Resist the urge to pack their bags for them or to check on them while there. If they have a cell phone, have them leave it at home. This is a good way to practice not having direct or constant contact.
• Encourage them to write a letter to someone (maybe you) while at camp. You will be so excited when you receive a letter from camp! Be sure to include envelopes, addresses, stamps, paper, and a pen in their luggage.
• Gear up physically. If you have purchased new tennis shoes, break them in with a few long walks, so the blisters don’t have to happen at camp.
• Especially for teenagers, have them take a mini-vacation from their electronic devices. A couple of hours or a weekend.
• Have them write a statement for their social media pages. “Peace out Facebook, I will be at camp for the next week. Check in with you when I get back.” Or something similar.
• Have them write down their goals for camp. So they can mentally prepare themselves for what they hope to do and see.
• Make a homesick plan:
1. Homesickness isn’t entirely bad. It’s great to love your home. It’s sometimes part of the process, and it’s a confidence booster when a camper gets through it.
2. Make a happy place plan and write it down. This is an amazing opportunity to learn a life skill. Today’s youth go to technology to escape, and studies show this increases their stress. Some ideas might be: taking 10 deep breaths, traveling to a happy place in your mind, packing a certain stuffed animal, or tossing a football. They are capable of this independence.
3. Your plan should NOT be, “Give it a couple of days and if you don’t like it, we will come get you.” This will set them up to give it a couple of days and knock the confidence right out of them.
4. Let your camper know what to expect with correspondence. You don’t need to write every day, but let them know what to expect.
• You are giving your child an incredible gift. I cannot promise you that they will not lose some socks, that they will love every meal or activity, or that they will adore every counselor. But you are preparing them for college and beyond; you are giving them the freedom to gain confidence, independence, and leadership skills; and you are instilling in them that they can do it.
• What do YOU want to do during their time at camp? Plan a vacation for a later time, time to organize, time to have one-on-one time with your other children, or some “date nights” with your spouse or friends.
• If you have apprehensions, work to resolve them. If you are worried that your camper is not going to know anyone, set up a pre-camp get-together. If you are worried about your camper’s medical needs, become friendly with the camp staff. If you are anxious about their food allergies, talk to the camp’s director. Make a camper-sick plan for yourself. Make sure there is only excitement and optimism coming from you, and share your anxiety with another adult.
• Pack self-addressed envelopes in their luggage.
• Whether they are flying or driving, refrain from crying your eyes out until they cannot see you. Take a deep breath, trust, and remind yourself that you are giving them an awesome gift.
And, what is this gift everyone is talking about? At camp, they will be part of a community all their own. They will become emotionally attached to handmade rope bracelets on their wrist, and have a song for any occasion on cue, and maybe even forget they need to shower, and think sunscreen is just a normal daily moisturizing technique. They will learn to do things on their own, and they’ll learn to rely on others. They will learn how to survive on their own for a week or two, and they’ll learn how to help each other through it.
They may even grow up on summers away from TV, and forget Facebook exists. They will relish in the joy of sleeping in cabins, swatting mosquitoes at campfire, and swimming every day. They will savor the feeling of pushing water behind them with a paddle and the whoosh of air behind the tail of an arrow as they fire. They’ll forget about appearances, relish tan lines, and recognize the beauty of a smile over anything else.
So send your kids to camp. Send them so they’ll learn to set tables and make beds and wake early. Send them so they’ll know how to be a leader, paddle a kayak, weave a bracelet, and sing as loud as they can. Send your kids to camp so they’ll learn to love themselves and learn to love others. Send your kids to camp because they’ll realize who they are, or who they want to be. And, prepare yourselves for a year of camp stories, and for a flurry of songs. Prepare to learn names of kids you’ve never met. And for your kids to have a need for sunshine, a need for campfires, and companionship. They will be forever grateful for your awesome gift of summer camp.
American Camping Association, Inc. (http://www.acacamps.org)