Sleepaway Camp: A Parents Guide!
Preventing homesickness starts at home with you – help set your camper up for success this summer!
As your camper heads to camp this summer, we know how pre-camp jitters can surface – for both you and them! The foundation for a successful camp session is laid long before a camper arrives on check-in day, and we want to help prepare you in the best way to support your camper ahead of their arrival at camp!
While our counselors are trained on how to deal with homesickness, preventing homesickness starts at home. Here is a quick overview of steps you can take to make the transition to camp life easier for your camper:
- Be positive and encouraging about your child’s camp experience, and help your camper get excited about camp by talking about the activities and new friends they will make. Let them know you look forward to hearing about all the great things they experienced at camp upon their return home.
- Encourage campers to tell their counselor if they are experiencing feelings of homesickness.
- Please don’t present “going home early” or “calling home” as an option – this doesn’t instill faith in your child to have a successful camp experience, and only encourages homesickness.
- Make a plan with your camper for if/when they are feeling homesick. This could be looking at photos of pets, talking to a trusted adult at camp, writing a letter home, or making a mental list of the fun things they got to do that day at camp.
- Give your child letter writing materials and encourage them to communicate with you via mail
- Send your camper’s comfort object (blanket, toy, etc.) with them to camp.
While camp is low-tech for our campers, please be assured it is still high-tech for our Director Team in terms of parent-communication – whether that be through email, posting photos or social media updates.
Managing Worries – Things to Do!
- Validate their worries – let your camper know it is normal and expected to feel worried.
- Talk about ways to handle change and discuss how they may react to difficult situations.
- Connect with our Director Team if your camper has any serious concerns ahead of camp.
- Show your camper photos/videos of camp to get them familiar with the site, and discuss activities they think they will like or want to try.
- Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, like using a flashlight for nighttime bathroom trips.
- Practice independent skills that are needed at camp (brushing hair, taking a shower, choosing outfits, etc.)
- Let them know why you are excited for them to have this experience, and help them create a list of things they are excited about too.
- Send a letter ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp (you can also leave this with us in the office on drop-off day).
Managing Worries – Things not to Do!
- Do not make promises that campers can call home at their discretion!
- Do not promise that you will come and pick them up early. This can set the tone of their whole experience, and it is often very hard to change the mindset of a camper who is convinced that they will only be at camp for a short amount of time.
- Try to not project your own worries and anxieties onto your camper.
- Writing to tell your camper all of the fun things that they are missing out on while they are away at camp.
- Setting unrealistic expectations about their experience at camp. Our Executive Director, Tom, likes to say ‘while we can’t guarantee that every camper is going to love Camp Granite Lake, we can guarantee that there will be someone there who will really care about them while they are at camp’.
How We Manage Homesickness at CGL:
Keep them busy. The busier campers are, the fewer opportunities they have to think about what they are missing at home. We work hard to get campers to focus on the fun they are having, often asking questions like ‘What was the best part of the day?’ and ‘What are you excited about trying tomorrow?’, in particular when our counselors do their nightly head check with each camper. This way, they are geared towards the positive aspects of camp instead of the things they miss about home.
Build connections. Building connections with each other and with our counselors is really what Camp Granite Lake is all about. We play lots of ‘get-to-know-you’ and team-building games when campers arrive to turn individuals into a cohesive group, and work on developing these relationships throughout the session.
Encourage letter writing. Writing letters expressing how campers are feeling can help with homesickness. We advise campers to think of at least one or two positive things to include in the letter (e.g., new found friends, a favorite activity, or a Counselor they like), and we really appreciate you writing positive and encouraging letters back!
- Staff Training. Our staff go through an intense 10 days of staff training, to help prepare them in the best way for when any issues may arise in their cabins. We hire staff who really care for our campers, and they spend lots of time getting to know campers prior to the session and when they first arrive to help make them feel comfortable, and able to talk to their counselor if they need to.
- Make them feel at home! Campers arrive on opening day to their bed made on a pre-selected bunk with a personalized name tag. Our ultimate goal is to make campers feel at home so they can thrive in the camp environment, and take advantage of all of the opportunities offered to them. Campers are given a full tour of CGL via a fun scavenger hunt to help orientate them and make them familiar with their surroundings when they move in.
Establish clear bedtime routines. Bedtime is often the most difficult time of day for homesick campers and missing their at-home nightly routine can remind kids of what else they are missing at home. Our Counselors are trained to establish a routine that they stick to throughout the session, whether that be reading the cabin a bedtime story, or singing songs before bed. Cabins also have a group de-brief to reflect on the day, followed by Counselors individually checking in with each camper (head checks). Campers also get around 15 minutes of quiet time to wind-down before bed, where they may read a book, or write letters to you!
If you still have worries or concerns, please reach out to our Director team firstname.lastname@example.org, who would be more than happy to arrange a time with you to chat over Zoom to answer any questions about your camper coming to CGL this summer!