Author Archives: Audrey Monke

Too Much Screen Time? 4 Ways Summer Camp Can Help

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, originally published at Sunshine Parenting.

I’ve learned to face my fears, I’ve tried new things, and I have learned that you don’t always need to have your phone or video games.

-Kimberly, Camper

Children between eight and ten years old currently spend nearly eight hours a day on media. Adolescents average nearly eleven hours per day, seven days a week, on screens. The negative impact of this digital lifestyle is evident in kids’ expanding waistlines as well as their growing lack of interest in being outdoors. Now there’s an additional worry about the impact of our kids’ excessive screen use: anxiety.

In a  New York Times article—Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes, “Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree.”

Anxiety is on the rise—among children, teens, and adults—and our screen time is exacerbating the issue. The problem is not just with teens. Adults are modeling this uber-connected life and experiencing a similar rise in anxiety. Ubiquitous screens are all that this anxious generation has ever experienced, and as parents we can feel powerless to stop devices from overtaking our family’s lives.

Whether sending or receiving SnapChat messages, watching YouTube videos, scrolling on Instagram, playing video games, or taking 100 selfies to find the best angle, our children are inundated with digital input while also feeling pressure to post the “right” things.  The attraction of media is hard to resist, so most of us (including parents) simply succumb to having the near constant presence of our electronics. 

Many of us find it difficult to drag ourselves away from our laptops and smartphones, and often our schedules and lifestyles don’t allow for adequate time to just be outside and enjoy our natural surroundings.  Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the alarming trend of children spending less and less time outdoors.  Whether due to sensational media accounts of lost hikers that have fanned parental fears, or simply a lack of time in over-scheduled lives, children simply aren’t outside playing as much as they used to. Instead, they’re inside on their screens.

I don’t think anyone would debate that we all need to unplug more, but it’s very difficult to actually get kids off their screens, especially now that many schools require devices for course work, and most kids have their own smartphone by middle school.

Recently, I interviewed a mom who gave clear instructions before her twelve-year-old daughter’s birthday slumber party: devices would NOT be allowed. But this mom, unfortunately, is still the exception, not the rule. She lamented that when her kids go to other people’s houses, they complain that all the kids do is play on their devices the entire time. While we can get our kids to turn off and put away screens at home, it’s difficult to monitor them when they’re not at home. And, unfortunately, kids are drawn to homes where screens are not as limited.

While a few weeks at camp is not the only answer to all the screen and anxiety problems, camp experiences can be a great salve for our kids. Breathing fresh air, connecting face-to-face, and not worrying about “likes” and what they’re missing, kids relax and enjoy themselves. And they report feeling happier and less anxious.

Here are four ways summer camp can help with the parenting challenge of too much screen time:

  1. DETOX:
    Just being completely unplugged for a few weeks is a new and refreshing experience for kids—a true digital detox. Because they’re having fun and staying engaged and entertained, they get over their screen addiction quickly. And, because it’s a “cold turkey” approach with no ambiguity (everyone’s following the same rules), campers don’t push back against being unplugged like they do at home.

  2. CHANGED PERSPECTIVE:
    By experiencing screen-free fun and friendships, many campers express a new desire to spend less time on their devices once they return home. Campers and staff have frequently reported examples of providing leadership in asking friends to participate in phone-free times.

  3. APPRECIATION FOR NATURE AND OUTDOOR RECREATION:
    While counting shooting stars, appreciating spectacular views from a hike, or smelling the smoke from their campfire, campers aren’t thinking about their TV, video games, and cell phones. Instead, they are experiencing nature and being truly present with others. Many discover new outdoor activities they enjoy, and they are inspired to spend more time outside and
    in the moment once they return home.

  4. BETTER FACE-TO-FACE FRIENDSHIP SKILLS:
    Social interactions can be difficult, and many kids choose to keep interactions safely behind a screen. At camp, while sharing stories around the campfire and spending quality face-to-face time with new and old friends, campers gain more confidence in their social skills and are more likely to pursue real, face-to-face friendships upon returning home.

Getting kids off their screens — and convincing kids how good it feels to be unplugged — can be a real challenge. Summer camp can help.

Over the summer, I interviewed kids about their camp experiences. The topic of being unplugged came up a lot and the kids had insightful words:

 

Related:

Thoughts on Being 13 (CNN documentary)

Ep. 4: Giving Kids’ Phones a “Vacation”

5 Reasons to Unplug

Why We Need to Unplug to Connect with our Families

10 Reasons Great Parents Choose Summer Camp

Read original post at Sunshine Parenting.

Coach’s Award 2018

In 2009, Gold Arrow Camp lost a dear friend. Ken “Coach” Baker (March 10, 1951 – April 5, 2009) worked at GAC as Camp Assistant Director and Director from 1981-1992 and had a huge, positive impact on many of us who are still here at camp today. Ken was instrumental in helping Sunshine purchase Gold Arrow from Jeanie Vezie in 1989, and mentored Sunshine, Monkey, Woody, Chelster, Tigger, Junior, Trapper, and many other GAC staff during their early years working at camp.

Ken “Coach” Baker, Jeanie Vezie, and Sunshine (1989)

Ken had an amazing way of making even mundane tasks like picking up trash and painting buildings feel monumentally important. He had a way of clapping his hands together and giving a pep talk that got everyone fired up to do their jobs well. Ken had a near-constant smile on his face and took every challenge that came his way in stride. We all knew we could go to him with any problem and he would help us figure out how to fix it.

To honor Ken, in 2009 we established “Coach’s Award.” This award has been given each year since to a leader at camp, nominated by his/her peers, who motivates others through positive leadership and encouraging words and exemplifies Ken “Coach” Baker’s dedication to GAC’s vision.

Coach’s Award, displayed in the Camp Store, has the name of all recipients

To select each year’s recipient, we ask the entire staff to complete a nomination form, where they put the name of one person whom they think deserves this honor. They include comments about the person they nominate. We have such a high caliber of staff, many of whom are extremely positive and exemplify what Coach stood for, and we are grateful for the legacy he left us and that so many people at GAC are incredibly positive and motivating to others.

There were many 2018 staff who met the qualifications for this award and stood out for their positivity and encouraging words for others. In all, 30 different staff members were nominated. That means that each of those 30 people stood out to another staff member as someone who was a positive, encouraging, supportive leader.

This summer’s recipient, Henry “Bravo” Pedersen, joins the ranks of many other well loved, longtime, members of the GAC community who have positively impacted campers and staff, including 2019 staff members Baboon, Cheerio, and Toyota.

There were many positive comments from his fellow staff members on his nominations, including:

Every time I saw you with your boys you were positive and knew just what they needed. You were so funny at morning assembly too. Never failed to put a smile on my face and others too.
Best counselor here and it’s not even close. Killed it at the hardest job at camp and still knew more kids than his own cabin. Best co ever. He’ll drive up to accept.
You are so extremely positive. Your energy is contagious and your patience is inspiring. You are always there to help anyone, and be a friend to anyone. Above all you are humble, and unafraid to ask for help. That’s a trait not everyone had, and I believe that’s what makes you coach’s award worthy. <3 never stop being you.
He was always so positive and happy around campers. He was very involved during rocks & ropes activities with encouraging his campers to challenge themselves. His energy was always present in all that he did. Camper and counselors looked up to his leadership and kindness.
He has endless patience for kids, he has a great presence and always radiates positivity. Seeing his smiling face on the dining porch always put us in a better mood. I think he really represents the GAC spirit and I was happy to have met him.
Everytime I saw him he always had a smile on his face. He seemed like a great counselor and a great guy regardless of who he was interacting with. His positive attitude was contagious.
Bravo provided an amazing example of what counselors at GAC should be like. Despite having youngest bears for 6 weeks straight, Bravo always had a smile on his face and never once outwardly showed any signs of exhaustion. If I ever worked just half as hard as him, I would be so proud of myself. Bravo, Bravo!
Bravo was the most calming spirit everywhere he went! He oozed enthusiasm and is the perfect demonstration of selflessness & patience. He is an incredible counselor.
Always involved & present with his campers. So kind toward everyone, energized & went above & beyond everyday.
Bravo stepped it up for his first year on staff. He always had a smile on his face even through difficult moments. He was so full of positive energy & knew how to pump up any crowd!
Kind, caring, helps anyone regardless of vote or position. Always gives 100% to campers & staff. Never belittles anyone, treats male AND female staff equally. Always has a kind word to say. He gives camp a special spark. He has more patience than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ve never been more in awe of a coworker.
You are always positive. You are welcoming & kind to everyone. It was such a joy to meet and spend time with you this summer.
I nominate Bravo due to his ceaseless energy, enthusiasm and patience despite having some of the hardest cabins and most difficult children. I have no doubt that he has left an ENORMOUS impact on his boys, all of whom camp is probably the most challenging yet most positive experience of their year. Bravo brought a smile to every child and counselors face a like.
Bravo always went above and beyond for his campers. He is super prepared, engaged, cheerful and funny. He always greets me with a smile even though we don’t know each other that well and his campers thrived off his positive energy!
Bravo is an outstanding counselor. He has incredible patience and kindness with his campers. He’s kind & funny & fun to work with. I never saw him without a smile& really loved how inclusive he is to both his campers & fellow staff!
He always bring smiles to other faces. You can tell by his actions how he actually cares about others and how they are doing. When someone asks him for a favor or help he jumps on it with no hesitation. His positivity brings out the best in me as well in others. If anyone deserves it it’s Bravo!
He went above and beyond with his little bears like he literally lost his voice for a month. He makes it look so easy to be a GC, be everyone’s friend, and still be upbeat and active at camp.
Bravo embodies GAC values, energy, love and spirit. He was consistently happy and spreading his positivity to campers and staff.
So much respect for how you managed to keep up your energy always smiling, always helpful and kind. You did such an amazing job with the baby bears and I’m sure everyone loves you.
Seeing the way Bravo interacts with his campers has always warmed my heart. His amount of spirit and fun loving energy has brought so many smiles to GAC.

Congratulations, or shall we say “BRAVO!” to the 2018 Coach’s Award recipient – Henry “Bravo” Pedersen!

My Favorite Spot on Earth

My Favorite Spot on Earth: Gold Arrow Camp

By: Sophia L., Five Year Camper

There is a place in the sunny Sierra mountains of California. A place where the only noise is laughter, and the air smells of fresh pine. A place where kids are free to play and roam, among the tall forest.

This place is called Gold Arrow Camp. As you walk through the wild grass and sit around the campfire, there are no cell phones buzzing, only the quiet hoot of an owl on a chilly summer night.

When you head to the dining porch, you cross a muddy path, where you must balance on the wooden logs so you don’t fall in the pebble filled creek lined with multi-colored flowers. While you hop into a canoe, or jump into the refreshing, clean water of the lake, you shiver with cold, and delight.

As you walk up the dusty, rocky path, desperate to take a break from carrying a heavy backpack, you rest your head against a cool rock and look around you. You see gorgeous willow trees and all kinds of beautiful birds surrounding the mountain filled sky.

When you sluggishly walk onto the bus to go home, your eyes are filled with tears by the fact that you will have to wait a whole year to come back to your second home. When the bus pulls away from camp, you’re sad but happy because if you experienced this magical, serene, exquisite, calm, beautiful place every single day, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Celebrating #CampKindnessDay

We are thrilled to be joining camps across the country in celebrating Camp Kindness Day on July 24, 2018. The day is described by the American Camp Association (ACA) as “opportunity to demonstrate to the world the great work that camps are doing to teach kindness in engaging, simple, repeatable and high impact ways that live on in the daily lives of campers and staff members when they return home.”

Camp Kindness and WOW coordinator Cheerio created this “Kindness Calendar” to provide campers and counselors with different ideas for acts of kindness they can do each day this summer whether they’re here at camp or at home!

Kindness is a quality we all look for in friends, and we are talking about how doing acts of kindness, encouraging each other, and giving compliments to our friends fits perfectly with our Find a Friend theme this summer. We are excited to be participating in Camp Kindness Day, as this world could definitely use more kindness! 

More about Camp Kindness Day

The American Camp Association (ACA) is working in cooperation with KindnessEvolution to take a stand for a positive shift in our nation. Focusing on our youth and young adults, Camp Kindness Day will help showcase the commitment of the camp community to fostering the core values of kindness, compassion, generosity and care and integrating those values more fully into every aspect of our society. These values are already part of the fabric of the camp experience. We share the mission for our youth to be nurtured, taught, supported and inspired to grow into our new generation of kind, compassionate, socially-minded, community-oriented citizens.

Camp Kindness Day will allow camps to incorporate into their July 24 programming fun theme-based activities and cooperative games, cool projects and memorable moments which will celebrate the value and impact of kindness.

Resources/Related

GACs of Kindness

Kindness Ideas

Teaching Kids Kindness

Camp Kindness Day – American Camp Association

Kindness Evolution

Five (More) Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp

5 (more) reasons great parents send their kids to campBy Camp Director Audrey “Sunshine” Monke

There are so many reasons great parents choose to send their kids to summer camp. Several years ago, I shared five of them on the most popular post I’ve ever published. But now I have more to share. Consider this the second installment in a series with others to follow, because the list of ways kids benefit from summer camp is seemingly endless.

Since I last wrote about reasons great parents send their kids to camp, I conducted research and found that camp experiences positively impact campers’ happiness and social skills. I’ll begin, then, with happiness.

The first reason great parents send their kids to camp is that it helps them BE HAPPIER.

“Camp makes me happy and nothing can prepare me for life as well as this environment.”

“Come on,” you’re thinking, “How can two weeks in the mountains change my child’s overall happiness level?” Good question. One of my research findings was that both parents and kids agree that children feel happier after being at camp. The combination of positive emotions, deep friendships, being disconnected from technology, and just plain fun makes kids feel happier at and after camp. I’ve previously written about how the science of positive psychology may explain why kids flourish at camp and demonstrate increased happiness levels before and after their camp experience. In this era, when we’re seeing our kids suffer from rising rates of depression and anxiety, isn’t it nice to know that there’s a place where kids can go that actually serves as a positive intervention for overall happiness?

Next, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them DISCOVER THEIR BEST SELF.

“Being at camp gives me this sense of belonging that I’ve never felt anywhere else.”

In many different ways, but all with the same underlying meaning, campers describe camp as a place where they can be themselves. They feel open to saying and being who they really are, not stuck conforming to what’s considered “cool” and “acceptable” in the outside world. Surrounded by a diverse group of friends of different ages and backgrounds, kids develop the ability to explore their own interests and express their own thoughts better. As a parent, I hate to admit that I sometimes push my own interests on my kids, even when I don’t mean to. For example, I might say, “You’re so good at softball! Don’t you want to keep playing?” when my child says she doesn’t want to play anymore. Stepping away from their regular activities and normal life schedules (as well as their well-meaning but often overly directive parents), kids have the opportunity to think through what’s really important to them as individuals.

Third, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them GROW THEIR GRIT.

“The counselors challenged me to do things I wouldn’t normally do at home.”

Learning self-reliance, experiencing mistakes and failures, and reaching for goals are all camp experiences that help campers develop their grit, an important character trait that we’ve learned is critical to success in life. Camp offers a unique experience to children – the chance to be away from their parents for a short period of time and learn to handle more things on their own. Without parents to step in and assist, or rescue from mistakes, kids develop confidence in their own ability to make decisions and solve problems. Just being “on their own” is a huge confidence builder for kids, and they feel more self-reliant after being responsible for themselves and their belongings for a few weeks.

Fourth, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them MEET POSITIVE ROLE MODELS.

“Camp has made me into a leader, having the best role models as my counselors to look up to.”

One of the best things that happens at camp is that kids get exposed to a different kind of adult role model than what they see in the media. No reality TV stars will be gracing the waterfront or backpacking trips at summer camp. No perfectly coiffed and stick-thin model will be standing next to them brushing teeth in the bathroom. No macho guy who speaks disrespectfully about women will be leading the campfire discussion. In fact, the college students who choose to spend their summer working at camp are an outstanding bunch of young adults. Most are stellar students with outstanding leadership skills. They love the outdoors and working with kids, and they are the kind of people we want our kids to emulate. They love leading discussions on topics that are important to their campers and helping them build confidence. There’s no focus on appearance at summer camp, and so designer clothes, make up, and trendy hair-styles don’t hold the same importance that they do at junior high or high school. In fact, the predominant style at camp is pajama pants paired with dirt and sweat-stained t-shirts. And we hardly ever spend time in front of a mirror.

Finally, great parents send their kids to camp because it helps them DEVELOP BETTER COMMUNICATION SKILLS.

“The other part of camp that has influenced me the most is the simple idea of trying to always smile.”

In post-camp surveys, campers consistently write about how ditching their electronics was Campfire Timeone of the best things about their camp experience. In fact, it’s a practice they take home with them, setting aside phones during meals with friends so they can connect more genuinely, face-to-face. In the absence of technological tethers, campers have many hours each day to practice these face-to-face communication skills. They learn the importance of things like eye contact, smiles, and body language as they positively interact with their peers. Counselors help facilitate lively discussions, and campers learn to ask each other questions, listen more carefully, and figure out common interests. Kids learn and practice valuable communication skills at camp, which they can use throughout their lives.

There you have it! Five (more) reasons that great parents send their kids to camp!

This post was originally published on Sunshine’s blog, Sunshine Parenting. For more camp-related posts, visit her “Summer Camp” page at her blog.

Resources/Related:
Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp (original Sunshine Parenting post)
Study Finds Campers Really are Happy, Sunshine Parenting
Research finds Children Learn Social Skills at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Why Kids Flourish at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Five Ways Camp Grows Grit, Sunshine Parenting
10 Social Skills Kids Learn at Camp, Sunshine Parenting
Making Friends, 3 Communication Skills Your Child Needs, Sunshine Parenting
Increased Levels of Anxiety and Depression as Teenage Experience Changes over Time (Nuffield Foundation)
10 Surprising Things Kids Learn at Camp, Sunshine Parenting

The Gift of Handwritten Letters

by Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Recently, I’ve been going through the many boxes of letters, photos, and memorabilia which I have collected over my first five decades. It’s been a time-consuming task, but I’m trying to organize into a smaller number of boxes what has been accumulated over the first half of my life.  What has struck me most is the huge number of letters I amassed from my childhood, high school, and college friends. Until this week, I didn’t remember how much we corresponded, but I just finished going through hundreds of letters.  I now have proof of the many friendships that were solidified over hours of writing to one another.

I mostly have the ones written to me, but I can assume from the “Thanks for your letter”s that I was writing at the same rate as my friends were. Maybe some of my letters are in a box out there somewhere?

Not only was there a huge volume of letters (see picture), some of the letters were ten pages long, with tiny writing. Others were short notes or fun greeting cards. Most of them were in beautiful, cursive writing, even some from boys!  What an amazing thing to think about. Back then, without the distractions we all have today, we had TIME to write letters like that!  Plus, we enjoyed it and were good at it!  We wrote letters, because often long distance phone calls were too expensive.  Many of us traveled and studied overseas, so the letters chronicle our trips.

The process of trying to get rid of most of this paper required that I at least skim through each one. I pulled out many that I simply can’t bear to throw away.  I found letters from my late grandparents, with their words of wisdom. I found letters my parents had written to me over the years.  I also found letters from friends showing major teen angst, which is a good reminder now that I have teens of my own. We weren’t that different back then after all! It’s just that we didn’t splash our anger and sadness at each other on Facebook. We wrote each other heart-felt notes.G-2589

One thing I realized is that my kids will not have a big box of letters like mine. They don’t write letters like we did in the pre-computer, pre-email, pre-social networking, pre-cell phone era.  But then I had a revelation! They DO still get to send and receive letters.  It’s when they’re at camp!  I have told parents how much campers enjoy getting “real” mail while at camp (the kind with a stamp), but now I have realized another benefit – they will have these letters as keepsakes and memories of their childhood. And you, as parents, most definitely should save all of the letters you get from your camper!

Among my box, I came across a postcard I sent to my parents in 1977, when I was a camper at Gold Arrow Camp. This is what it said:

My postcard home from camp, 1977.

“Dear Mommy,

I think it’s mean that you have to write a letter to get into dinner, but I’m glad to write a letter to you because I love you. It’s been raining since we got here. But we still went horseback riding. I wrote a letter to daddy this morning and sent it. Camp is so fun. I can’t wait to tell you. My counslers name is Liz. She’s nice.

Love, Audrey”

Let me tell you, we have gotten some good laughs in our house over this postcard. Not just about how I spelled “counselor,” but about my comment about the “Mail Meal” (dinners on Wednesday and Sunday that you need to have a letter or postcard home as your ticket in). The dreaded “Mail Meal” has been a camp tradition for as long as anyone can remember, but I didn’t even remember thinking it was a bad thing.  My adult view is much different than my ten year old one! I now understand how much parents need those letters.  I hope most kids get beyond the “I have to write this letter” part, and share some of their feelings and memories of camp. The resulting memorabilia will be priceless.

So, here’s to another benefit of camp I’ve only this week realized. We have the chance for our kids to experience the (almost) lost art of writing and receiving hand written letters. And you, as a parent, have a chance to write down words that your child will be able to read and keep long beyond any email you’ve sent them!

P.S.  Did you see this hilarious book?  P.S. I Hate it Here:  Letters from Camp  Some really funny, real letters kids wrote to their parents from camps.

Fun Ideas for Letters to Campers

5 Fun Ideas for Letters to Campers

5 Fun Ideas for Letters to CampersBy Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director
Originally published at Sunshine Parenting

Because we’re not in the habit of writing letters to our kids much these days – with brief texts being the primary form of written communication between us – it can be challenging to come up with what to write to our campers. This is especially true when you’re writing more letters than you’re receiving, which will most likely be the case, because while your child is busy at camp, you will be at your home or office glued to your computer, looking at photos of the fun they’re having.

To keep letters fun and entertaining for your camper, here are some creative ideas:

1. Create a “fill-in-the-blanks” response letter

Especially for younger campers (or for kids who think writing is torture), make it easy for them to send you news without having to worry about writer’s block or grammar. Create a funny, fill-in-the-blanks response letter for them, or choose something from one of these websites:postcard

Joy in the Works (free printables)

Fine Stationery (fill-in-the-blank pad to purchase)

Another easy, fun idea is to provide a small return postcard with something like, “The fun things I could be doing right now instead of writing home:” and provide three blank spaces.

Include the fill-in-the-blanks letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Ideally, your camper will take 60 seconds from their fun to complete the blanks and send it back! However, I offer no guarantees.

2. Provide a “Top 10” List (à la David Letterman

You can create your own Top 10 list and provide an entertaining letter to your camper, or you can try one of these:

  • Top 10 Foods We’ve Been Eating While You’re at Camp (and include some really gross sounding stuff)
  • Top 10 Parent Activities While You’ve Been at Camp (include items like cleaning out closets, fumigating the house, repainting the garage)
  • Top 10 Reasons to go to Camp (don’t have to do dishes, clean room, listen to mom nagging about getting off Xbox, etc.)
  • Top 10 Events at Home this Week (include boring stuff like dusting, toilet cleaning, eating leftovers)

3. Write a letter from a pet or favorite toy

Mix it up by writing a letter from the perspective of your family dog, a stuffed animal, your camper’s blanket, or some sports item (skate board, bike, etc.)

4. Make up a story about a picture you’ve seen of them

Why not think up a funny story to go along with a picture you’ve seen of your camper on the camp’s website?

“I saw you climbing up a huge wall at camp. I’m guessing that you were escaping from the camp cook who was trying to make you eat Brussels sprouts?”

5. Have everyone in the family write a “warm fuzzy” for your camper

This is always such a great activity – even when your child isn’t at camp. But camp is an especially good time to think about what you love about your camper. Get each family member who’s still at home to write a sentence or two about what they love about your camper. You could even collect sentences via email from grandparents and extended family. What camper wouldn’t love to hear how much they are loved and appreciated?

SunshinePostcard1977

Postcard from camp to my parents, 1977

Have fun writing letters to your camper, and enjoy the hand-written letters you’ll get in return. You’ll want to save those forever!

Here are some additional letter-writing tips:

Make an envelope out of their favorite magazine, a sports article from the newspaper, or something else fun or colorful.

Type the letter in funny fonts or backwards, or hand write it in a circle or in a bunch of different colors.

Ask simple questions and try to just include one per letter.

Include a joke or riddle

Letters to Camp is a whole blog dedicated to letter-writing ideas! Check it out!

Visit Sunshine Parenting or follow Sunshine on Facebook or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting. 

Related:

Hand Written Letters; sunshine-parenting.com

 

Messages for an Anxious Camper

By Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Camp Director

Read more of Sunshine’s camp-related posts at her website, Sunshine Parenting.

“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
– Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy

Recently I spoke with a mom whose 11-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days.  He’s nervous.  He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp.  He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick to make it at camp.   I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son.  She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list, so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.

Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further.  I am a huge supporter of camp and recently had a JC (Junior Counselor) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.”  So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence.  I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.

We have 7-year-olds at our camp who do great during our two-week sessions.   They are the ones who’ve begged their parents to let them come to camp and generally have older siblings who’ve attended camp. I also talk to a lot of parents with older kids who “aren’t sure if they’re ready for
camp.” One thing I’ve learned after close to three decades at camp is that the same kids who are anxious and hesitant about going to camp when they’re nine or ten will still be anxious when they’re 13.  And they may not be interested in going away to college when they’re 18, either.

So, as a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s separation anxiety, as well as your own.  You can avoid it and not send them to camp and hope that they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible.  Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.

In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.”  I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart.  Again, you need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp.

This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety.   Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp.  Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.

Without further ado, here are some messages to give to your anxious camper:

  • Let them know that missing home is okay.  “You may feel homesick, and that’s okay.  A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”
  • Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs. “There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need.  They can help with things you normally come to me about.  Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you.  They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”
  • Talk with your child honestly about the importance of starting to develop some independence.   Something along the lines of:  “It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college.  I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home.  Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job.  You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away.  Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home.  I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”
  • Share the reality that many good things in life come with some pain and failure.  If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share.   Something along the lines of, “Many good things in life aren’t easy at first.  Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard.   Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love.  If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences.  The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay.  I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better.  I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!
  • Let them know that you are confident in them.  “I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year.  I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this.”   If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.
  • Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.  “Every day comes with its good and bad parts.  When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling.  If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself.  Did you talk to your counselor?  Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends?  Write me a letter?  I also want you to share good stuff.  Did you get your favorite food for lunch?  Try rock climbing?  Get up on a knee board?  I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”
  • If your camper asks you if you will pick him up if he’s sad, you need to let him know that you are not going to pick him up early.  “Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it.  Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp.  I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”

In Homesick and Happy, Thompson says, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness.  It is not a disorder.  It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home.  Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later.  Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”

I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages but instead choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child.  What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience.    These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.

I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings.  Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer.  Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp.   If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift  by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.

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