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Make the Benefits of Camp Last All Year
There’s little doubt that for a week or two in the summer, if you send your kids to camp, they will have great fun, meet other kids their age from around the country, and be challenged with new activities. And there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll come home gushing about the lifelong friends they’ve made, the excitement of learning to swim or ride a horse, their favorite new hobbies, and the anticipation of returning to camp next summer. What they probably won’t tell you about are the more subtle life lessons camp has given them, those skills that if nurtured at home after camp translate into a lasting self-confidence, an awareness of the importance of kindness, a greater comfort in voicing their opinions, and even a willingness to do household chores with a smile! What you do to foster those changes in your children will go a long way to making sure they stick around permanently.
Adam Cassi, Camp Director at Camp Libbey in Defiance, Ohio, said, “The thing I hear from a lot of parents is, ‘My daughter got home and kept on doing these things for a week or two, but then they kind of trailed off.’”
He suggests keeping the camp experience fresh in their minds and reminding them that “things are a little bit different here, but they really shouldn’t be.”
Bob Ditter, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who has consulted with many agencies that work with children, including Girl Scouts of America, the YMCA, and Jewish Community Center, among others, suggests: “Parents have to make a decision. Are they willing to change something in their practice at home in order to sustain some of the changes their kids have made, such as having a job wheel that you put up on the wall outlining chores?
“Parents are reluctant to give their kids chores because they already feel their kids are over-programmed. But parents have to be comfortable coming up with a ritual, because that’s what camp is: a ritual. At camp kids have to keep track of their own stuff — do their laundry, fold it, keep the dirt out from under the bed.”
Ditter believes because camp is a child-focused center, the kids themselves have a lot to say about how it works. Their advice is actively sought. They feel like equal players. Emulating this environment at home allows them to continue to stand up for themselves and feel like a contributing member of the household.
And because camp counselors tend to be young adults to whom the campers can relate, they are especially well-suited to act as role models in showing the kids what it means to take the initiative and demonstrate the kind of behavior that elicits a positive response. The kids naturally will want to follow that behavior.
Dr. Chris Thurber, a board-certified clinical psychologist and father who has spent thirty summers as the waterfront director at Camp Belknap in New Hampshire, said, the best way to encourage your children to continue those behaviors at home is to “Avoid veiled criticisms such as, ‘You never did this before.’ What does feel good is when parents notice and praise the behaviors in a genuine way. For example, ‘I noticed how patient you were with your little brother.’”
Camp director Rona Roffey from YMCA Camp Duncan in Illinois said, “One of the biggest things I think kids gain is a sense of independence. They are in a sense taking care of themselves. They’re making choices. Somebody’s not there saying: ‘You should be doing this.’” That fosters the desire to continue to demonstrate that independence in positive ways long after summer camp is over.
Kathy Chameli, whose teenage son and daughter have attended Camp Duncan every summer since the second grade, agrees. “Both my children are on the shyer side,” she said. “I was hoping camp would give them more confidence and independence.” And it has.
She says camp has really allowed them to focus on self-development in a way that has taught them to be responsible for themselves, rather than looking to her to do everything. “I attribute a lot of their self-confidence to the independence they experienced at camp.”
Ditter feels perhaps the largest long-term benefit of camp is resilience. “Resilience is one of those umbrella confidences,” he said. “Self-esteem is how kids feel about themselves. Confidence is the willingness to act on that self-esteem in a public way. Self-reliance is being able to depend on yourself. Resilience encompasses all those. I know I can count on myself because at camp I had to count on myself. I know I can recover from a setback because at camp I had to do that.
“That’s what I think camp really teaches, and [its] the thing I think most parents would want their kids to sustain.”
One final piece of advice from Roffey: “Go ahead and give your kids more responsibility. Get your kids involved in social activities that aren’t attached to a computer.”
And send your kids to camp again next summer. Reinforcement of the positive behaviors they’ve already learned at camp can only help, and you will continue to reap the rewards and satisfaction of a more self-assured, responsible, mature child — even if that means feeling a few “my-baby-is-growing-up-so-fast” pangs.