Just a few tips on homesickness...
Jun 24, 2000 Write an essay on this topic.
I had gone to summer day camp since before I can remember, and started going to sleep-away camp when I was 9 (going into fifth grade). It was my choice to go, my parents never forced me. In fact, I think it was a little harder for them than it was for me! I had wanted to go for a couple of years, and my older sister went, so of course I had to follow. I ended up going to the same camp, which worked out very well since she was just on the other side of the lake at the teen side of camp.
Choosing a Camp
You know your child better than anyone else. What is good for one child may not be good for another. There are camps for everything now, from weight-loss camps to computer camp. At specialized camps, children may find others with similar interests or backgrounds. Other kids like to try many new things and are better off going to an all purpose camp. Does your child excel in or express an interest in a particular sport? A musical instrument? Drama? Or has s/he change their interests from day to day, from horseback riding, to sailing, to soccer? These are all factors you must consider when choosing a camp. Also keep in mind if you or your child would be more comfortable with a religious program, or all-girls or all-boys. Will your child need kosher food? Diabetic options? Special help with a disability?
Your goal is to make your child feel comfortable at camp. They should feel at home, or else all they will want to do is come home!
Choosing a program
At the time, the camp only had 3 session choices - first month, second month, or both. My parents opted to send me for the second month only. Now many camps have a one or 2 week option, which is probably very helpful to new or hesitant campers. One month was a very long time for me as a nine year old but I grew to love it.
When I got there I realized that many of the campers had been there since the first month, and had already formed their cliques. I was extremely shy, and found it hard to bond with kids who were already established there. I did however, find wonderful friends in some of the new campers. It is for this reason that I recommend (if possible) to send your new camper during the first session camp offers in order to help make friends a little easier. Friends can make or break a summer, so if your child is shy, they should not be given the disadvantage of having to try extra hard.
My first night
Oh that first night....I was fine the whole 4 hour bus-ride. I was fine while unpacking. I was fine meeting my counselors and bunkmates. Then we went to dinner. I remember it so clearly - some kind of unidentifiable meat they called roast beef, salad with my least favorite kind of dressing, something they called bug-juice, and by the time the plate of cookies got around the table to me all the chocolate ones were gone! I wanted mommy's cooking, and grandmas fresh baked cookies. I cried from the moment we sat down, and didn't stop crying till we left the dining hall. My counselor gave me a piggy back ride all the way back to the bunk to try to cheer me up. It only helped a little. I was tired from all the excitement, hungry since I hadn't touched dinner, and I really missed mom and dad. As it turned out, no one ever ate Sunday night mystery meat. So we did like they always did on Sunday nights - tell ghost stories and pig out on our Hershey's Kisses, Pringles, and Oreos! My bout of first-night home sickness was long gone, and I practically forgot all about home!
Ok, that was embarrassing - I don't think I've told that story in over 10 years! But anyway, my point is that the camp knows that your child may miss home, and the counselors should be trained to help. Once a camper is having fun with the other kids, homesickness is really the last thing on their minds. The purpose of camp is to keep kids busy, and they do a great job at it.
Letter writing aka - No News Is Good News
At the beginning of the summer you'll probably get tons of long post cards from your kids telling you all about the wonderful things they're learning, and the people they're meeting. After a while, the letters will get shorter (I literally wrote some that said "M+D - Hi! Luv N" - my parents saved them and make fun of me to this day!) and then eventually you may not get any. Just remember that your kid is probably having so much fun, and is busy during the day, and tired at night. If you don't hear from them, don't worry! If they were homesick they wouldn't think of not writing. Encourage them the best you can by giving them fun stationary and pre-addressed and stamped envelopes (one or two for each week) addressed to you, grandparents, and other friends and relatives. Post card are also good since they won't feel like they have to write a lot. If your child has access to computers at camp, give them a list of e-mail addresses of the family - they can send one letter to everyone at the same time.
Regardless of how often you get letters from your children, make SURE you write to them. It's extremely disappointing to be the one kid who doesn't get a letter on mail day. Keep in mind that the mail might be slow, so keep up on your writing to make sure the post-office doesn't make it difficult on your child. Snail-mail makes kids much happier than email - they can hang up letters, photos, magazine clippings - anything that you actually send them. That way they have something to look at in case homesickness begins to set in again.
Care Packages An absolute Must!
Packages don't have to be too extravagant - my parents always sent shoe-boxes overflowing with lots of little things. If your child's camp has a restriction on food, you should know this before hand, but find out what is allowed. If food is an absolute no-no, think of some small gifts they may be able to have fun with - a yo-yo, baseball cards, nail-polish, their favorite magazine, a fun pair of sunglasses. The possibilities are endless.
What if their birthday is over the summer?
My birthday is in August, and I thought it would be hard to spend away from home, but in reality, I felt like a princess-for-a-day! My special day (10 years old!) was announced at morning line up, and at lunch the whole camp sang to me (yeah, they made me do the whole skip around the room thing!). I got the piggy-back ride privilege all day, and I got out of my morning clean-up duty. My bunk threw me a surprise party at night. At the party I found out that my mom had sent a package to my counselor filled with enough goodie bags for the whole bunk! My sister came from the other side of camp to visit, and got to call my parents (which pretty much wasn't allowed, except in extreme circumstances). With the help of my counselors and parents, it was probably my best birthday I had experienced.
There are a few things you can do to prepare your child for sleep away camp. Some of my suggestions include:
* Have them got to day camp first
* Start on a shorter program
* Tell them what to expect - if you don't know, speak to other parents, kids, or camp staff.
* Have them sleep over friend's homes.
* Have them participate is school or boy/girl scout overnights, or camping trips.
* Make sure they are mature enough to deal with getting themselves dressed, using the bathroom, using sunscreen
* Prepare them for any uncomfortable situations that may occur (for example, a girl's first period, or kids talking about things they may not understand)
If your child doesn't want to go, try not to force them. If you absolutely must have them gone for the summer so you can work or something, let them know that you will be there for them, and if things really don't work out ensure them that they can come home (give them a minimum time to adjust - a week or 2). Just because you loved camp as a kid doesn't mean your child will - just because you hated it doesn't mean they'll hate it. Go with your child's instinct as well as your own.
While they're gone
Have fun! Enjoy the peace and quiet! Miss them like crazy!
(BTW - The camp I went to was Camp Poyntelle/Lewis Village, a co-ed Jewish Camp in Pennsylvania. There is no section to rate it on epinions, but I'll be happy to answer your questions by e-mail!)
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