A Guide for Parents of First-Time Campers

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Are you ready to help prepare your child for an exciting period of adventure, new friends, and a chance to experience life away from you?  Are you ready to ease your hold, to show confidence both in your child and yourself to allow this separation to happen?

Over the next several weeks we will be preparing to welcome campers to OSRUI. At the same time, we want to help our parents (especially our parents of first-time campers) prepare as well, to help assure a successful camp experience for all.

Summer camp is more than a vacation for children. At camp, kids learn to appreciate the outdoors,Etgar experience the companionship of other children and young adults working as counselors, and learn skills that enhance self-reliance, cooperation with others and a sense of life larger than one’s self. Hopefully, the acquisition and refinement of such skills will contribute in positive and significant ways to the child’s adjustment and will carry over into his/her adult years.  Camp makes it easy for kids to have fun, relax, and experience the spontaneous joys of childhood. A summer at camp is often perceived by children, parents, community leaders, clergy and social service agencies as a respite from the strains of everyday life and the pressures and tensions of school.

Preparing for Camp

Consider camp as a learning experience. This is an opportunity for children to explore a world bigger than their home community and a chance for you and your child to practice “letting go.”  Letting go allows children to develop autonomy and a stronger sense of self, make new friends, develop new social skills, learn about teamwork, be creative, and more. This time also allows parents an opportunity to take care of themselves so that they will feel refreshed when their child returns home.

Prepare for camp together.  Decisions about camp – like what to pack – should be a joint venture, keeping in mind your child’s maturity. If your child feels a part of the decision-making process, her chances of having a positive experience will improve. Both the OSRUI Packing List and the Kallah Atid Packing List are available in the OSRUI Family Handbook, which can be found on your CampInTouch Forms Dashboard.

Don’t buy a whole new wardrobe. Camp is more rugged than life at home. A child doesn’t need new clothes, and having well-worn clothes and familiar possessions will help ease the transition. This is especially important for first-time campers.     

Listen to and talk about concerns.  As the first day of camp nears, some children experience uneasiness about going away. Encourage your child to talk about these feelings rather than acting on what you think his feelings may be. Communicate confidence in your child’s ability to handle being away from home. Tell your child that it’s only natural to miss home a little at the beginning, but that you are sure he will get over it and have a wonderful time.  Some children feel that they must choose between being happy and being homesick. Reassure your child that it’s ok and totally normal to be happy and miss home.     

Don’t make promises about picking up your child early if she is homesick.  These statements set her up for failure and send a message that you have no confidence in her ability to cope with adversity. Tell your child:  “If you are feeling sad or homesick, talk to your counselor or another adult. And the best way to fight off homesickness is to do something fun and keep busy!”     

Practice camp.  Encourage your child to “practice” his routines without you:  getting ready for bed, picking out clothes, washing up and brushing teeth etc. Talk about what your child should do if he needs something; it’s important that campers learn to advocate for themselves.     

Be realistic.  Camp, like the rest of life, has high and low points. Not every moment will be filled with wonder and excitement. Encourage within your child – and maintain within yourself – a reasonable and realistic view of camp. Discuss both the ups and downs your child may experience. Opportunities for problem solving, negotiating, developing greater self-awareness and increased sensitivity to the needs of others can help your child cope with successes and failures in everyday life. Resist sending your child off to camp feeling pressured to succeed.  The main purpose of camp is to have fun.     

Mementos from home.  Help your child decide what to bring to camp as reminders of home. Photos are great and your child will be able to show her new friends and counselors and tell them about home. Be careful about sending the irreplaceable stuffed toy or blanket. If you must, sew it inside your child’s sleeping bag, so it won’t get lost.     

Let us know.  We want to learn all we can about your child before the summer. If you have any specific concerns, please let us know. The Camper Information Form is designed for you to tell us about your child. A phone call or email is always welcome.

While Your Child is at Camp

Communicate in writing. Summer camp offers kids and parents the chance to develop a rarely practiced skill — letter writing. Write as often as you want. Campers love getting mail. Keep in mind that this is your child’s connection to home and family. Brief notes are great, as are postcards. Resist long letters. Send your child a card or letter a few days before the session begins, so it is waiting at Camp before she arrives. Parents do have the option of emailing their campers through CampInTouch. You will receive more information about this later in the spring.  (Campers receive email during daily mail call. They do not have access to the internet and will not email you).

Make your letters upbeat.  It’s fine to write that you miss your child, but don’t include things like “the house is so quiet without you.” Don’t let your child know how lonely you are.  Communicate with your child in a positive, light style. Don’t share any bad news. If grandma is sick, or dad lost his job, keep it to yourself. At the same time, don’t make it sound like you are having too much fun without your child. The description of your fabulous day at Great America with a sibling can wait until he gets home. Ask specific questions in your letters about your child’s activities, bunk life, friends, etc. This will help him organize his letters home.

Send an occasional care package if you wish.  Packages are appreciated every now and then, but please don’t send food. Receiving food packages is contrary to camp policy. We are concerned about allergies, sensitivities and, of course, bugs and critters in the cabin/tent. If your child asks you to sneak food packages, don’t. Even if you think the rule is silly, breaking a camp rule might interfere with your child’s sense of right and wrong. Instead, send postcards, cartoons, newspaper and magazine articles, comics, game books, stickers, puzzles and other items that can be shared with friends. Campers are limited to one package per week.

Make it easy for your child to write home.  Be sure to send stationery and stamps.  Including mailing labels or pre-addressed and stamped envelopes will ensure that the letters actually reach you!

Don’t make major changes at home. This is not the time to move to a new neighborhood, sanitize or gut and redecorate your child’s room or get rid of his fossilized frog collection. When most kids return from camp, they like to find things exactly as they left them.

Help your child cope at camp. Most kids need a few days to adjust to life at camp and being away from home. During this time, kids miss their parents, pets, friends and familiar surroundings. Most kids cope with these concerns and — with the help of camp staff – build support systems.

Support your child’s efforts to work out problems with the help of the directors and the camp’s staff. They are available by phone all summer long. Communicate your love and confidence in your child’s ability to work through problems. Remind her, if necessary, that she has made a commitment for the summer. Overcoming a longing for home, dealing with upsets in the cabin and learning to care for oneself are important challenges to be faced at camp.

Don’t panic if you get a “homesick” letter. Please remember that the letter was written several days before. Many things may have happened already to alleviate the situation.  If your child’s letters contain urgent pleas for you to bring him home, resist the temptation to rush to camp. Avoid making deals, such as “Give camp one more week.  If you’re still unhappy, we’ll bring you home.”  Please do call camp and leave a message for your child’s unit head.  Leave your child’s name and your concerns. The unit head will check on your child and with your child’s counselors before he or she gets back to you.

Campers and staffRemember that the best people to deal with a child’s adjustment to camp and feelings of homesickness are the counselors and unit head.  Most of our staff have been campers themselves and remember very clearly what it was like to go to camp for the first time.  Also, we spend the week before camp starts with our staff in an intensive orientation program.  We discuss and study counseling techniques, problem solving, group dynamics, and much more. Counselors know what to look for, how to react, and where to get help in dealing with any camper problem. Ultimately it is these camp staff people who will guide your camper to success.  Occasionally, a rabbi, educator, or one of the camp directors may get involved as well.   Unfortunately (and this is often very difficult for parents to understand), parents usually cannot play a positive role in this process. When parents appear, either in person or by telephone, during the adjustment process, the child almost always regresses, making the process longer and even more painful. This is why you must trust us and stay involved, but only indirectly.

When Your Child Comes Home

After a summer of fun, adventure and freedom, fitting back into the family and assuming responsibilities may be a challenge for some kids. Give your child time and space for this reentry process. Support the positive changes you observe.  Reintroduce “house rules” with patience and awareness that your child has done some maturing over the summer.