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How Can Directors at Vermont’s Aloha Camps Best Partner with Parents?

By The Aloha Team

Dusk settling over the mountains.

Girls from Vermont's Aloha Hive Camp for Girls Lead the Way“I would be happy to add your child to the wait list.”  At this time of year in the office of The Aloha Foundation, it is common to hear one of our staff telling a disappointed parent that a program is full, and that their child will be placed on the wait list. For our camp directors, being fully-enrolled is a terrific problem to have, even if it is frustrating not to be able to accommodate every camper.  By February, although nearly every spot at Aloha, Hive and Lanakila has been filled, there are a few open places in specific sessions and age groups.

Aloha Hive Director Kathy Plunkett is now at the point of working to fill the remaining slots for the summer of 2013 with girls who are a certain age, or who can attend a specific session with openings.  Much like planning the seating chart for a  large wedding, filling Hive’s units with correct number of girls and correct ages takes master organizational skills. Sometimes the complicated piece is an unexpected withdrawal of a camper.

When enrolled campers withdraw, it is disappointing to a director. There are unfortunate, but understandable reasons for withdrawal, such as illness, or injury. There is also a trend of parents calling to withdraw a child for reasons that seem more based on anxiety and fear, than necessity. Kathy Plunkett recently shared some thoughts about why campers, young girls in particular, have been changing their minds about attending summer camp.  Kathy explained, “My experience as a summer camp director has shed some light on girls in particular, and how can we ensure we are giving them the opportunities to develop the confidence, resiliency self-esteem and that will last them a lifetime?”girls reaching great heights

A few weeks ago, local teacher and writer Jessica Lahey wrote one of the hottest blog posts on The Atlantic. Her oft-reblogged piece, Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, addresses the phenomenon of helicopter parenting, or overparenting, and its effect on children.  Lahey, who has blogged for us before, refers to Queensland University of Technology’s study on the concept of overparenting.  Kathy Plunkett and I discussed the significance of Lahey’s piece as it pertains to summer camp.

Lahey relates examples of parents she has encountered, and how their efforts to smooth life’s bumps for their children are counterproductive.  “The stories teachers exchange these days reveal a whole new level of overprotectiveness: parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure.”

Vermont's Aloha Hive Summer Camp for GirlsKathy has had many conversations with nervous parents who contemplate a daughter’s first summer at camp, and will often say to them, “I am not here to talk you into camp, although I am not sure I can think of a safer more supportive community for girls to develop confidence, independence, assertiveness and success.  I am here out of genuine caring, from my experiences of dealing with girls who attend summer camp and thrive.”

It can be scary to attend summer camp for the first time.  Being away from mom and dad, living outside with new people and trying activities for the first time are all reasons for a child to hesitate attending.  Where overparenting comes into the picture is when instead of encouraging a child to take the challenge, the parent enables the child to avoid the risk.  Kathy responds, “Mom and Dad, move over, your little girls can do way more than you might think.  And one thing she can do, and should have the chance to do, is face her fears.  I can’t think of a better way for girls to become strong, confident and independent, than attending camp, providing an opportunity that deliberately nudges them out of their comfort zone.”

KayakingJessica Lahey applies the same thinking to parents who coddle their children in school.  “These are the parents who worry me the most — parents who won’t let their child learn. You see, teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.”  Like Lahey, Plunkett believes that the most significant value of a summer at Aloha Hive is the opportunity to take a few risks away from mom and dad’s watchful eyes, and discover the thrill of achievement and growth.

Kathy’s observations of younger girls (ages 7 to 12) at Aloha Hive reveal that their innate enthusiasm and ability,  “I have seen that the younger girls at camp just “do it!”  Rather than be stereotyped by their gender, Hivers are more like little “people” who have not yet been defined by being “girls,” and they try things without wondering,  ‘Are my friends doing it, and will they accept me if I do?'”  How can camp directors help the parents of daughters to attend camp, face challenges and triumph?  Like Kathy Plunkett, teacher Jessica Lahey wonders about the consequences of protecting children from risk, “What worry me most are the examples of overparenting that have the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine an education in independence.” Lahey continues that, “…children make mistakes, and when they do, it’s vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty.”

Whether a parent is sending an eight-year-old daughter off to her first summer at Aloha Hive, or a 13-year-old son to a fourth summer at Lanakila, or even daughter and son for a day at Horizons Day Camp, the directors of all the camps and programs of The Aloha Foundation know that with a little Success Counseling, any child can conquer a challenge, thrive and grow at summer camp.

Laura Gillespie is the Director of Communications at The Aloha Foundation, an alumna of Aloha Hive and Aloha Camp, and has been a Horizons and Lanakila parent.