If you’ve had summer camp on your mind in the last six months, it’s been hard to go more than a week without bumping into an article or interview with America’s biggest summer camp champion, Michael Thompson. Thompson, a clinical psychologist, school consultant and international speaker on the subjects of children, schools and parenting published his latest book Thompson’s new book, Homesick and Happy in May. At the heart of Thompson’s message, is that allowing children to be away from home provides incredible opportunity for growth, and that kids, “…can be both homesick and happy, scared and successful, anxious and exuberant.”
As a current summer camp parent, or future camp parent, where do you fall on the continuum? Can you easily wave goodbye at drop-off, confident that your child is going to thrive, or do you fight back tears until you’re back in the car? Like most camp parents, you’re probably somewhere in between the two extremes. Directors and staff at Aloha, Hive and Lanakila know that sometimes the parents struggle more with separation than the campers do! We’ve become a generation of vigilant parents, mindful of threats to our children that lurk “out there.” We spend so much time caring for and worrying about our kids, that it can be hard to turn that part of the brain “off” after they’ve been embraced by camp. The best thing parents can do for their campers, is to let them go, without acknowledging too much parental anxiety. We know how parents wait impatiently for the weekly summer online photos, but those of us behind the scenes in Fairlee hope that in between photo postings and letters from your campers, you can relax, forget about the kids once in awhile and have some fun without them! We’re confident there is no camper “stalking” going on.
Meanwhile, the directors and their staff know that nurturing campers happiness and confidence is the secret to a magical summer. An experience at a Vermont summer camp is more than just a lot of fun. In addition to swimming and campfires and songs and s’mores, girls and boys at the Aloha Camps learn to trust themselves, challenge themselves and to thrive without the hovering hand of mom or dad. How often during the school year do we counsel our children on how to navigate the tricky childhood issues of school and sports and friends? How often do our children turn to us to help them solve the problem at hand? A summer at camp gives a child the chance to solve problems by looking inside, and with the loving help of well-trained staff, tackle some risks and challenges on their own. What could be more empowering to a child than conquering a first trip to the ropes course, or a grumpy tent-mate, or a rainy overnight on their own?
So whether your child is at camp now, or preparing for Session II, there are great ways to stay connected and supportive. The American Camping Association is a great resource for all things camp. If you have a child who is a little nervous about Session II Opening Day on July 24th, this blog post has some great advice on how to help with last minute butterflies. Sending lots of cards and letters is a great way to show support for your camper. There are even specially themed camp greeting cards you can send! You are giving your child a wonderful summer of fun, adventure and opportunity for incredible transformation. A recent piece in the Atlantic by Jared Keller is a wonderful tribute to a summer at camp, “(it) isn’t just about learning to build a fire or wield a bow and arrow. It’s a crucible for personal ethics and identity.
Laura Gillespie is the Communications & Alumni Relations Manager at The Aloha Foundation, an alumna of Aloha Hive and Aloha Camp, and has been a Horizons and Lanakila parent.