“Camp is like Hogwarts.”
Perhaps you have thought about summer camp as a magical boarding school type place or perhaps this notion is wildly remote in your idea of camp. I have heard this idea spoken before by campers and what I think they mean by it is that to them, camp is a magical place.
Dr. Michael Thompson discusses the magic of camp in his book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow. A place where there are new rules, risk, exotic adults, wild creatures, and fascinating adventures may seem like themes made only for the storybooks, but these are exactly the things that happen inside the world of summer camp. Camp is a place where kids are on their own, navigating their own friendships, choices, skills, and gifts. Yes, there are still structures, rules, and authority in place to ensure boundaries and safety, but those controls don’t get in the way of an entirely new world for young people.
Camp Kippewa sets itself apart even further by allowing campers to choose their daily activities based on interest, and we believe that autonomy is a valuable tool given to them for the summer.
Sometimes, however, there is work to be done before a child even gets to camp. Homesickness and even childsickness (what parents go through in terms of withdrawal from their children) are issues that, at times, take some prep work. As Dr. Thompson states in his book, “children do not have a lot of life experience. They need you to help them anticipate both their pain and their strengths.” One of the first things a parent can do is have confidence in the child’s ability to manage the challenge of being away. If a parent has anxiety about his/her child going away to camp, that child will usually sense that worry fairly quickly.
At Kippewa we have seen many children deal with homesickness and we are well-equipped to handle it. And we have also seen those children beat it. We know they can overcome it and go on to have one of the best summers of their lives. Parents should also believe that their children have the ability to defeat homesickness.
I once talked to a camper who said that her biggest worry was being worried. That cycle is hard to break and sometimes kids view homesickness as a failure. They feel they have failed at something and worry that it will happen again. Perhaps Samantha was supposed to spend the weekend with her grandparents or at a sleepover and couldn’t last the first night. That situation sticks with her and the idea of going away to camp for weeks at a time is now a chunk of anxiety stuck in her thoughts. Getting kids used to shorter overnight experiences may help prepare them for longer ones. Camping trips. Sleepovers. Field trips. These can slowly build their confidence so that they can overcome those shaky feelings of failure if the first few tries aren’t successful or just to prepare them in general for extended stays.
It is also possible to turn the corner on the negatives of homesickness and spin it in a different direction. The fact that children miss home means that they have a home to miss. They have parents with whom they love and a place where they know they are cared for. The more that parents build their own confidence about their child’s departure, the stronger the foundation is for that child to branch out on his/her own.
Once on that branch, children can experience the full magic of camp. Choosing activities, balancing structure and flexibility, learning personal space and shared chores, and forming friendships completely independently are not only great skills at camp or as an adolescent. These ventures will follow the child to college when he/she is a freshman in a dorm and knows
what it’s like to share space, make a bed, and meet new people. It will follow the child to job interviews and relationships well into adulthood. And the memories…oh those magical memories of s’mores and polar bear swims and scavenger hunts and bunk spa nights and campfire songs and on and on and on.
And when that child comes back home and talks about being covered in paint and glitter for a Color War breakout or the counselor who could imitate over fifteen different animals or the camping trip where he/she helped make pasta and put up tents in the rain, or the boating trip where whales were jumping from the water right next to the boat or the time everyone wore their clothes backwards and made animal noises while walking to activities…it may sound a bit like Hogwarts after all.