“It’s time for camp!”
These four words are the highlight of our family’s year every summer. I have had the privilege of serving as a camp leader at Camp Bird in Crivitz, Wis., for many years. Camp Bird is a weeklong Christian youth camp for kids in fifth to eighth grade. This year my son Josh will be in his last year as a camper and my daughter Kayla will be in her third year as a camp counselor. For nearly 30 years my wife and I have been volunteering at Camp Bird. We have seen kids create memories and friendships that last a lifetime.
We are blessed to have a great network of Christian youth camps in our synod. As thousands of families prepare for their children’s camp experiences, this question comes to mind: How can parents help prepare their kids for a youth camp experience so their kids can have a terrific time? Here are a few things I have noticed over the years as I have interacted with families and seen some excellent examples of encouragement:
• Go with a friend—This is perhaps one of the best ways to help kids feel comfortable with a new camp experience. Knowing just one other person can help them not feel alone and make it easier to meet others.
• Know the camp—It’s easy to be afraid of what is unknown or unfamiliar. Review the camp website or printed materials with your child. Look at the pictures and videos. Check out the daily schedule. Review information on the staff. Find out what to pack, etc.
• Talk to others—Talk to parents and kids who have been at the summer camp in the past to find out what their experience was like and what to expect.
• Meet the staff—Before you leave the camp at drop-off time, introduce yourself and your child to some of the staff. This can not only help you feel more comfortable leaving your child with others, but it can also help the child know exactly who he can go to if he has questions.
• Focus on the experiences your child can have—Talk about all the fun experiences the camp has to offer! Swimming, kayaking, basketball, hiking, ropes courses, campfires, archery, kickball, singing, crafts, and all the other activities.
• “But what about . . .” —Acknowledge the things that may be concerns for your child and reassure him that you will find answers to the “what about” questions. Your child may be worried if he has special dietary needs, medications, or other concerns. It’s helpful to get specific answers so your child knows what to expect.
• Communicate—It is helpful to have boundaries and expectations set regarding communication with your child while at camp. There may be limits on the ability to communicate with phones, but maybe cards, letters, postcards can be used. Find out the recommended communication procedures and let your child know how you will use them.
• Stuff—What’s one of the simplest ways to make sure your child has a great time? Make sure she packs the right things. Get a supply list from the camp and go through it with your child. Packing itself can be a fun experience, but make sure she has the essentials like mosquito spray and sunblock.
• Food—What’s top on the list of the best parts of a camp experience? The food! What’s on the menu at camp? I remember one child who came to camp worried about what he would make himself to eat! Not too many camps I know would ever expect a fifth-grader to make his own meals! He was pretty excited to hear the meals would be all prepared for him. But this was a concern that he never expressed to anyone until arrival.
Parents, these are just a few ways to help your children prepare for their summer camp experiences. Separation from our kids can not only be anxiety-provoking for our kids but also for us as well. Seeing them prepared and excited can help alleviate some of our anxiety. You also might want to ask the camp if there will be Facebook posts or other updates so you can see how things are going at the camp.
Take advantage of the opportunity to see your child enjoy a Christian summer youth camp. Consider using some of the techniques above to help her prepare for her time away as she expands her experiences with new activities and meets new friends. Use this time of preparation to communicate with your child and be understanding, encouraging, and reassuring.
Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and son.