Parenting: How to help kids have a great summer at camp

For generations of American children, summer camp has been a well-known rite of passage. They will get some practice, maybe learn a new skill and hopefully build some new friendships before the lazy days of summer are over. Whatever the camp’s focus may be, children could mostly rely on a predictable ritual of sunny days and nights around the campfire.

But the pandemic-disrupted summers of 2020 and 2021 turned the camping experience, like almost every other part of American life, upside down. Some camps closed while others tried to house children and took safety measures. For many parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated, camping was just not an option.

So this year, many families may be trying a “normal” thing they haven’t tried since 2019 – or haven’t tried at all.

And after two years of hybrid school schedules and online learning, children can feel trembling at a personal camp.

Fortunately, camp experts say, there are many ways parents can help support their summer campers at home.

Share information

This year, “kids need more,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association. “They need more supervision, they need more coaching.”

Camp directors and counselors can be especially grateful for insight into the children they house. Communicate with the people in charge: Knowing how a child responds to conflict “helps us provide a better experience for the camper,” agrees Julie Bowman, manager of camps and public experiences at the Carnegie Science Center.

Think about giving a note to camp directors to share strategies that work for you with your child.

Note words

Parents often write letters to sleeping campers explaining how terribly the children are missed at home. These parents mean well, “but that 9-year-old really believes their parent needs them. They are worried about their parents, ”said Bob Bechtold, director of programs at Sarah Heinz House, which runs a day camp and overnight camp. And they may feel more homesick.

Rather than focusing your letter on how much you miss the child, Bechtold says, “it should be more incentive to get the children to talk about their experiences and tell them how proud you are.”

Mention that you are looking forward to hearing their stories about camp and you are so glad they have new experiences.

“It puts them in a good place where they can be successful – where they are not worried about the house, where they do not think about what is going on,” says Bechtold. “This is what the camp is about – to make those memories, to live in the moment.”

Also, let your child know in your letters that it may be a summer to try new things and have fun rather than worry about standouts, Rosenberg says.

“Making mistakes is an important part of learning, developing and growing attitudes,” he says, “and that’s what’s great about camping. It is a place where children can really learn to improve their disposition, to learn and become more curious, to be more discovery-oriented. And don’t be afraid to just go for it and try something new. ”

Send supplies

Camps often have emergency items such as towels that a camper can borrow. But children can feel surprisingly uncomfortable telling a counselor that they forgot something, Bechtold says. Some will end up without key items rather than asking for help.

So if your child has not yet left for camp, confirm what is needed even if you believe you know, and use a written checklist when packing. And if the camp has already started, let your child know that if anything is left behind, they can tell their counselors and ask for help to rectify the situation.

Handle devices

Help your child understand and follow the camp’s policies regarding phones and digital devices. Sometimes the rules can be difficult for children who have spent a lot of time on digital devices over the past few years.

At Bowman’s day camp, “we encourage them not to bring a cell phone,” she says. “And if they do bring a cellphone, we ask that they keep it hidden.”

Rosenberg says it can be especially stressful for some boys who are more accustomed to communicating via text or on game platforms where they are not expected to show emotion or empathize with others.

If your child has not yet started camping, confirm the policy on phones and other devices, and prepare your camper for it. If the camp is going on and your child is frustrated that device use is restricted, try encouraging them to seize a screen-free (or at least screen-minimal) summer.

The beauty of camping, Rosenberg says, is that children develop their budding identities by forming face-to-face connections with others.

Ideally, he says, millions of children will set aside digital screens this summer and “begin to build stronger social-emotional connections – the human connections we all need.”

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