With just under 40 days until the start of summer 2011, most parents are focusing their concerns on the seemingly overwhelming task of collecting the clothing and other “necessities” needed for their child’s summer at camp. Readying for camp usually boils down to accumulating, labeling, and packing an inordinate amount of items deemed vital to the production of a successful summer. But are parents really “packing” the right things? Are they really preparing themselves and their children to get the most and the best out of a great summer camp experience?
On some levels, not much has changed in the forty years since my father packed me up for my first summer as a camper at Timber Lake Camp. Yet, times surely have changed and so have parental expectations. My father was content in the hope of getting me back in one piece. Parents today have much higher aspirations for their child’s camp experience, commensurate, I suppose, with the higher tuition now demanded. Today’s parents should expect more than the obvious; safety and fun. They should look for real growth in their child. The first step in assuring it, is “packing” correctly – preparing properly for the camp experience.
First, parents need to trust the camp staff with a complete and thorough understanding of any issues, potential problems, concerns or prior experiences (in previous camps or in school) that might get in the way of a smooth summer. Sometimes parents, both protective and hopeful, decide it best not to discuss possible concerns with us, as camp directors, and, while that may work out fine, when issues do arise, the lack of information slows us down from providing the proper guidance that can head off minor problems before they become major ones. So, the first step in properly preparing your child is to properly prepare us. We are your partners this summer in creating the best summer possible for your child.
Second, you should focus attention on just what “skills” and growth you want your child to get out of the camp experience. Careful thought, discussion and planning will yield far greater results than allowing random events to take their hopeful course. Camp offers a wide array of skills to practice up on. And, best of all, that practice takes place not instead of having fun, but while having fun. That is what makes the potential of the summer camp experience so powerful. Whether it is the skill of making friends, keeping friends, learning tennis or to roller blade, or if it simply building independence, self confidence or self-esteem, camp is the perfect environment to make progress. While camp teaches these skills naturally, just through the various activities and natural interactions, you should make the learning a more intentional process. Determine what you feel is most important. Talk to your child and let him or her know what skill you would like worked on this summer. Most important; talk to us; let us know what is important to you so that we can focus attention on it this summer.
Third, and, perhaps, most important, you should prepare your child for the experience of group living. Children are used to their own bedrooms, their own bathrooms, and the freedom of their own schedule, find that camp life takes a bit of getting used to. It is important to stress that your child is not only coming to camp for his or herself. Your child is an important part of everyone else’s summer as well. It’s often overlooked, but your child will be an important and vital “cast member” in a summer production to be enjoyed not only by your child, but everyone he or she comes into contact with.
Your child needs to be ready to share, defer, compromise, and appreciate others while still focusing on his or her own needs. For many children, it’s a very different experience, but knowing what your getting into in advance – preparing for it – is the best way to ensure that not only will it be a successful experience but an extraordinarily fulfilling one as well. I know that it was for me, when I first came to Timber Lake that summer of 1967. I guess my father packed me up well.
Jay S. Jacobs