Summer camp can be happy trails with these tips
Posted: 06/06/2011 1:00 AM, Denver Post
In the cold of winter, armed with enough brochures to fill a camping tent, you’ve gathered the kids to make the big decision.
Will it be a year for science, adventure, sports or drama? Will your boy be heading to a day camp or a weeklong overnight camp? Is your daughter
emotionally ready to be gone for an entire month?
Mike MacDonald, president of the American Camp Association Rocky Mountain Section, congratulates you on doing the research and making a wise choice for your children. But he advises you not to relax yet.
“Getting them off to camp is the next important step,” says MacDonald, who has been director of Big Spring Ranch of Sanborn Western Camps the past 13 years. “Be positive: Tell them you know they’ll have a great time, and let them go.”
We asked the longtime camp director for tips to ensure you have happy campers this year.
Let’s talk about that often-difficult moment. What’s the best way to behave when dropping your child off? For instance, will a tearful farewell
let your child know you’ll miss him?
A brief goodbye is best. Sure, look at the cabin, help the child settle in a little. Tell the child she’ll have a great time, but even if you’re torn up inside, put on a brave face. Remember, the longer you linger, the harder it will be to say goodbye.
Some of those supply lists are fairly intimidating, not to mention expensive. How closely do parents need to follow those lists?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the camp personnel. Sometimes, for instance, we use a brand name of a sandal or hydration bag because people recognize the word. But really, a less-expensive brand would be fine. Another example: We have trunks (footlockers) on our list, because we don’t have closet space. But we tell parents who call that a big duffel bag will work too. Many camps also rent the bigger equipment, like sleeping bags or tents.
Do campers sometimes sneak in forbidden items?
Oh sure, especially tech stuff like cellphones, Game Boys and iPods. Each camp has its own policy, and it’s important to find out what that is and respect it.
The camper who is hiding a cellphone undermines the process. At our camp, kids have a month to get away from all that, and cellphones and video games keep them tethered to that world.
How, and how often, should you communicate with your child while he or she is at camp?
I think it’s a great idea to have a welcome letter waiting for them when they get there. Don’t send a daily letter or e-mail talking about everything that’s going on back home, which is pointing out what they might be missing. Don’t focus on how much you miss them and the dog misses them. Instead, let them know you hope they’re having fun and tell them you can’t wait to see the pictures.
How do you cope with homesick kids? Let them call home?
I’ve never had a child call a parent and not break down in tears, so that never works. Homesickness pops up at quiet times, when they’re getting ready for bed or in the early morning. We distract them, help them make friends, talk to them about the things they have to look forward to. Here’s one thing that never works: the deal. Parents do it with all the best intentions, but they’ll say, “If you’re not having a good time at visiting day halfway through, you can come home.” Those are the kids we lose because they may be having a great time at camp, but they have it in their head that at visiting day, they’re going home.
And how about kids who have problems with aggression or attention deficit disorder?
A good camp will have forms that will address emotional issues like this. They will touch on things like how your child reacts to stressful situations and how he interacts with others. Parents really need to get these forms, and all medical forms, in on time. It does us no good to get them the day camp starts. We really study them in advance.
Are the parents who are just now starting to think about summer camps out of luck?
Not always. Even popular camps have some cancellations. A good place to start looking is at campparents.org, a site put together by the American Camp Association. Look for a camp that’s accredited by the ACA. The organization does its research, and any camp accredited has high standards.
What are some of the rewards of summer camp?
There’s a power to learning to live together, to trying things in a new setting. It’s a chance for kids to disconnect. We like to say that instead of talking with their thumbs, they’re engaging people in real relationships. Reality beats virtual reality every day.