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Monday, March 24, 2014

Helping Your Child to Get the Most Out of Camp

Camp is a powerful experience for a kid- it fosters new friendships, inspires independence, and in many cases, deepens faith. It can also be a scary experience, especially if a child hasn't ever been away from home.

I really believe that Camp makes a huge difference in the lives of kids. I've seen it happen. But for some kids, it's a bit of a struggle! So, how do you help your camper to get the most out of the Camp experience?

1. Security and Comfort
 The number one reason kids leave Camp early or don't have a good time? They're nervous or homesick. It's really common, among all ages of campers. There are a couple ways to prevent that before your camper shows up for Camp, sleeping bag in hand.

-Get to know the Camp
See if the Camp has any events or programs that take place during the school year. Some Camps do things like game nights or weekend retreats, and those opportunities can be a great way for your child to become more familiar and comfortable with the Camp. Of course, this isn't always possible, so another way to familiarize your camper is to visit Camp- just walk around and get to know the physical space.

-Get to know the Staff
Many Camps make visits to churches and youth events. Contact them to see if they'll be coming to visit your area. Getting to know the staff is a great way for a camper to already have a "friend" when they arrive at Camp.

-Get to know the other Campers
One of the best ways to ensure a less-nervous time at Camp? Invite a friend! Campers who are already friends have a support system built in when they arrive- they're not worried about who to sit next to or who to hang out with- they've already got a buddy.

-Consider a More Comfortable Program
Many Camps offer several summer programs, usually of different lengths. If your camper is nervous, young, or is leaving home for the first time, it's worth looking into a shorter program (three days instead of an entire week, for example). Another option could be day camps- many kids who do day camps one summer feel more comfortable with a longer stay the next summer.  

2. Enthusiasm and Excitement
Remember when your kid was a toddler and fell down? If you made it seem like no big deal, there were less tears. The same thing is true with your child today- your attitude toward Camp makes all the difference! Help your camper get excited for Camp.

-Check out Facebook
You'd be surprised how many Camps have Facebook pages these days! Search for your Camp's Facebook page and check out pictures from previous programs, themes, comments from campers...

-Look on YouTube
Some Camps also have YouTube channels with promotional materials, past program videos, and more. I'd suggest calling the Camp to ask about a YouTube channel. If they don't have a channel, many Camps do have promotional videos, and chances are they'd be more than happy to send you a copy.

-Talk to Experienced Campers
The best way to get kids excited for Camp is through other kids. Ask around your church or community to find out which kids have been to Camp before, and have your child talk with them. Most of the time, the enthusiasm will rub off on your kid pretty quickly! 

3. Encourage Rule Following and Participation
Camps have rules. These rules are put into place (by people who have been running Camps for years) to ensure that your camper has the best time possible. Encourage your child to follow those rules, and to join in the fun!

Most Camps have a list of what to bring and what not to bring. And most Camps put cell phones on the "not to bring" list. Parents, I'm looking at you, here. Leave.The.Cell.Phones.Home. Kids who bring cell phones to Camp risk losing them, having them fall in the lake (three at my Camp last summer...) and, most importantly, they risk missing out on Camp. Not having a cell phone at Camp helps kids to stay present- to focus on what's going on at Camp. And honestly, you'll be hearing all the Camp songs and stories for weeks after you pick your child up... do you really want to start that sooner?

I have had parents call the Camp where I work, concerned that, without a cell phone, their child won't be able to contact them. Trust me on this, parents. The Camp staff have your child's best interest on our hearts- if anything happens, we will contact you. You can generally send letters (and at some Camps, even e-mails!) to your camper. Homesickness is actually worse when campers have lots of access to their parents- when campers focus on having fun instead of missing their folks, they're more successful at Camp.

-Snacks Stay Home, Too
Many Camps also have snacks on the the "not to bring" list. There are lots of reasons for this- one being cleanliness in housing locations  (aka preventing bugs and other wildlife from swarming the cabins. Seriously, it happens. One year, a skunk found his hungry way into a cabin full of little campers... and they got veeerrry lucky when it wandered away...).

Other reasons include issues with sharing, campers getting all hyped up on sugar and caffeine and not sleeping, and most importantly, the prevalence of food allergies. Your camper will be very well fed at Camp- they will be just fine without a trunk full of snacks!

-Participation Makes Perfect (er, Fun, anyway)
Your camper may very well be introduced to something new during his time at Camp (like ropes courses, rock climbing, speed boat tubing...). Those new things can be kind of scary! Encourage your camper to try something new while he's at Camp! That's what it's all about!  It's also important for your camper to realize that Camp is more fun when you participate! Sitting out during a game or not singing along seem "cooler" to some campers, but really, Camp isn't very much fun if you're not joining in. Campers should step out of their comfort zone a bit while at Camp- it's part of the growing process and your child will have memories that last a lifetime!

All this being said, it's worth it to note that Camp just isn't for some kids. I like to say that I'll try just about anything once- and that's my opinion of Camp, too. I think kids should try Camp at least once. Some will love it, and some won't. My husband was one of the second group- Camp just wasn't for him (of course, that's really changed now that he's an adult!) Make sure that your camper knows that if they didn't have a good time at Camp or they decided to leave early, that's okay. It doesn't mean they're a baby or a whimp, and it doesn't mean that they're weird or a scaredy-cat. They did something super brave by trying it out!

Camp is an awesome opportunity for growth in so many kids- growth in faith, in maturity, in independence, and in friendships. You can really help make the experience a great one for your child! If you haven't already, consider getting your child signed up for Camp!

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