On Episode 30, Soy and Peanut Butter sat down to chat about making friends, GACting, and her love of pesto. There’s also a princess themed Joke of the Cast and Taylor Swift is featured in our GACspiration.
By 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 one 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!
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
On Episode 29 Soy is joined by Slim, who spent several years living in Cabin 29. Soy and Slim talk about sports, Mississippi State, Swag, and how camp helps teach young men to be vulnerable and have authentic conversations. There was powerful stuff in this podcast, and we think you’ll really enjoy it.
I suspected as much.
In addition to being a camp director, I’m also an experienced camp parent, having sent my kids both to GAC and several other camps. So I am well aware of that “where did I put that camp handbook?” feeling.
My sons are both going to camp this summer, so I, too, am now in all-out alert mode to get them ready. In the past, I may have waited a tad too long on a few items, so I thought I’d share some advice before I get in gear and get them prepared!
Here are some tips to keep chaos at a minimum during camp preparations for your child:
#1 Order clothing labels today!
I really like these labels (and they are the ones we sent you) because you DON’T EVEN HAVE TO IRON THEM! Seriously, when I was getting my older kids ready for camp 15 years ago, we didn’t have such conveniences. Now, it’s super easy to have my kids label all those socks and undies on their own!
#2 Fill out your forms.
The forms we require you to complete are your primary way to communicate your child’s information and any special considerations or needs to the staff who will be caring for your child at camp. If you stick those forms in your child’s luggage as they depart (YOU WOULD NEVER DO THAT, RIGHT?), the staff may not have vital information about your child. Allergy lists for the kitchen, special activity requests, etc., are all made available before campers arrive. We need the forms 30 days before their session begins so that we can get the correct information to the appropriate staff.
Late forms are not okay. Fill them out. (As a related aside, I thought I could call our pediatrician at the end of April and schedule my son for a physical in May, but that was not the case. I had to send an apologetic email to camp explaining that his appointment is four days before the session starts. This is embarrassing for a 31-year veteran camp director!)
#3 Look at the packing list.
Sweat pants? Those can be hard to find in stores this time of year, and if your kids are like mine, last winter’s are way too small. You’ll have to order them online. I know Amazon is fast, but if you’re looking at the packing list the night before camp, even Amazon can’t get the sweatpants to you in time. Check out the list. See what your camper needs. Get it now rather than risking a panic attack at 11:45pm the night before camp.
#4 Plan for some down time.
When I hear about the schedules some of our campers have before and after camp—with not a minute to rest before or recuperate after—I worry. Remember our childhood summer days? A whole lot of nothing, most every day, so that by September school was actually sounding pretty good? Today’s kids have summer school, sports camp, junior lifeguards, test prep, sports practices, band camp, family vacation (need I go on?). Please schedule some time for rest and reflection after camp. The experience is so profound it needs to be savored, not wedged in between everything else.
#5 Figure out how to work our camp online system.
As soon as your camper arrives at camp, you’ll want grandparents to know how to send emails, and you’ll be anxious to see photos. Practice now so that on the first day of camp, you’re not fumbling around online.
There you have it—just a few tips to get you ahead of the curve on camp preparations. Trust me on these. I have been there a few times, and I know that ironing labels past midnight before an early camp departure is not a fun experience.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, Director of Gold Arrow Camp for the past 31 years, writes about camp, parenting, and happiness at her website, Sunshine Parenting. You can also follow Sunshine on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest for links to other articles and ideas about camp and parenting.
Summer Camp (lots of Sunshine Parenting resources to help you prepare for camp!)
Camp Supplies (there are TONS of other places to get camp gear):
Everything Summer Camp (trunks, duffels, other camp gear)
Label Daddy (no iron clothing labels)
Gruvy Wear (UV protective swim wear)
Originally posted in Sunshine Parenting.
On Episode 28 long-time camper and current counselor Squirrel joins Soy to talk about how camp changed her life, and why she loves leading backpacking trips in the High Sierra. There’s also a joke that Soy enjoys a little too much and a warm-up for Big Campfire.
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.
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:
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.
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.
By 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:
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?
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!
On Episode 27, Soy and Sterling sit down to talk about puns. They also spend some time talking about the growth mindset and how we can overcome fear. There’s a joke for fans of garnish and a GACspiration from one of our favorite modern philosophers.
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.
- Five Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp
- Five (More) Reasons Great Parents Send Their Kids to Camp
- Homesickness Help (sunshineparenting.wordpress.com)
- “Kidsickness”: Help for First Time Camp Parents (sunshineparenting.wordpress.com)
Homesick & Happy, by Michael Thompson, PhD.