Why Parents Are Thankful For Camp!

Mitch and Stephanie Reiter are bloggers for HuffPost Parents. This blog was also featured in the Huffington Post 

Many parents ask us about the benefits of sleep away camp, how much they can expect their child to grow and mature in a summer, and whether the changes will last beyond August.

Any veteran camp parent will tell you that camp is not just good for the child, but it’s good for the family! If you are a new parent considering camp for the first time, or nervous about whether your child is really ready, we wanted to share some of the changes you can expect after just one summer away from home! It’s amazing what seven weeks will do. We of course notice the change in our campers, but we love getting dozens of letters from first-time families who want to know “What’s in the bug juice, because we can’t believe this is our kid!?”

Here’s some of what you can expect even after just one summer at camp.

1. A willingness to try new things

They say the magic happens when you are pushed outside your comfort zone. And that is why they say camp is a magical place. There are activities kids LOVE and activities that may not be “their thing.” There is food that they can’t wait to eat (pizza day!) and meals that they can’t stand to see on the table. Because campers live and operate as a group, they learn to accept their differences, try new tastes and experiences, and learn they may actually like them! One mom shared that her picky-eater used to only eat plain bagels, plain penne pasta, pizza from a particular shop, salad and Hershey Bars. Seven weeks later, she can give him waffles for breakfast (hey — they have protein), any shape of pasta, any kind of pizza, and whole apples — not peeled and cut up in slices. She was also amused by his expanded choices at 7-11 (which is like the canteen at home), including Milky Way, Twix and Mug Root Beer. Now while that may sound like a sugary mess… you have to realize that this child seriously expanded his taste palette, made independent choices and may just be ready for Sloppy Joes next summer!

When children experience the reward of trying new things, it makes them want to try more. So many campers look at our climbing wall, and shiver at the thought of reaching the top. After a few weeks of watching their friends and being cheered on by their counselors, most of them will give it a go! The rush and excitement of making it half way, or climbing to the top, or even better, getting to ride down the zip line, is so exhilarating… it makes them more open to trying new things in the future.

What parents are thankful for: Less time spent as short order cook; more time planning new and exciting activities for your child.

2. Pride in taking care of themselves

For seven weeks our campers actually brush their teeth (at least before Visiting Day!), comb their hair, shower and dress themselves. All of these things involve surprisingly very few reminders, negotiating and reluctance. Why? Because they know it’s on them to get it done and “everybody is doing it.” They also live in close quarters and recognize that good hygiene is important and socially necessary. What a realization! Without mom or dad there to nag them into these responsibilities, it’s on them to stay clean and look presentable. Of course there is a learning curve for our younger campers to successfully care for themselves. But once they get it, they feel good to know they can do it themselves! When they come home from camp, they actually find it FUN and empowering!

What parents are thankful for: Shower hour for them is now rest hour for you!

3. Respect for their home and family

We talk a lot about the magic of camp, but we also know there is the magic of home. It’s a different kind of magic. The kind where kids drop their dirty clothes on the floor and they magically disappear. The kind where dirty dishes are left on the kitchen table and poof they get cleaned. Does this sound like your home? At camp, nothing magically disappears. Campers are responsible for clearing and stacking their plates, recycling, cleaning their bunk, organizing their belongings, folding their clothes and making their beds. They are held to standards during inspection and feel pressure from their camp family (aka their bunkmates) to uphold their responsibilities. If not, there are consequences. No one wants to let down his or her bunk.

There is also a deeper love between siblings at camp. If your kids are together at camp, they feel more connected in taking care of each other while mom and dad aren’t there. Even a couple minutes of sibling time a day at camp increases their love and respect for each other. New campers also enjoy feeling looked after by their camp big brother or sister, and they are more likely to pay those actions forward to their siblings at home. They have a deeper appreciation of what it means to be a big brother or sister.

What parents are thankful for: A child who contributes to the overall tidiness and order of your home. They also may walk their sibling to class, check on them during the day or read them a book at night. And it costs you nothing…unless you want to reward them with allowance!

4. Appreciation for rest time

One of the reasons so many parents say they can’t wait for camp is that their child will be unplugged for seven weeks. At camp we are 100 percent disconnected from technology and 100 percent connected to each other. Rest time doesn’t equal playing on the iPad, DS or watching television. When your camper comes home, you will be amazed at the activities they gravitate towards during down time. New hobbies like reading, playing cards, making bracelets, writing in a journal, playing ball are a refreshing change for you and them.

What parents are thankful for: Good old-fashioned fun like the old days, such as family game night, bringing a deck of cards to dinner (instead of the iPad) and maybe even a love for books. Imagine a world where you don’t have to nag your child to read? Also, your child may enjoy more quiet time in their room… an escape from the hustle of daily life.

IMG_5727 (1)5. Awareness and connection to life around them

A few months ago there was a powerful viral video called “Look Up”. It was a harsh reminder that many of us (and our children) spend our time looking down at our devices, texting, watching videos, hiding behind technology and living disconnected with our world. At camp we always look up. We look into each other’s eyes. Our hands are free for holding, playing and creating. At camp we connect. We are plugged into life. We live in the moment.

Kids learn to really listen to each other at camp. They understand what moves them, what scares them and what it means to be a true friend. They learn the implications of their actions on others, how to resolve differences, how to lead and how to be a part of a group. Because they are forced to live in a bunk with the same people for seven weeks, they understand it’s not all about them anymore.

What parents are thankful for: A better child. A better son or daughter. A better sister or brother. A better friend. A better student. A better community member. A better teammate.

And all of that growing can come from just one summer at camp! Imagine what your camper will be like after two summers, five summers, ten summers!? Talk about potential!

About Camp Towanda:

Camp Towanda is an independent, traditional, co-ed sleep-away camp in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It is privately owned, operated and directed by Mitch and Stephanie Reiter.  For over 90 years, Camp Towanda has continued to define what camp should really be. Our program offers state-of-the-art facilities, an excellent and professional athletic department, waterfront, extensive arts, drama and adventure programs, culinary cooking classes, and special events.  We are highly regarded and respected as an industry leader and are involved in giving back to various organizations throughout the year.  Camp Towanda is accredited by the American Camp Association and a member of the Camp-Alert-Network, Wayne County Camp Association, Camp Owners and Directors Association and the Pennsylvania Camp Association.

Why Sleepaway Camp is Good for Kids…and Parents!

So can you believe your kids are coming home THIS WEEK?! Where did this summer go?! Thank you so much for entrusting us with them this summer.

We have watched them grow leaps and bounds, thrive in ways you could never imagine, make their own choices and try new things.  We also watched them navigate challenging waters, advocate for themselves, tumble but not fall and SOAR.  The power of Camp Towanda is truly magical!

marnieI’m sure as you reflect on the summer that was, you also feel as parents that you learned some things about yourselves…especially to our first time parents.  How far you have come in the past 7 weeks?  From tear-filled sunglasses on June 22nd to now, as you anxiously await the return of your changed child.  They are older, braver and more independent.  They return home more confident, compassionate and respectful.  What is it about camp that makes that all so possible?  Part of it is because they are in the “No Fly Zone”.

It’s no secret that this generation of parents has been dubbed “The Helicopter Generation”.  With all the information and access we get to our kids’ lives for 10 months of the year, we are able to influence so much in their lives (of course from a place of love).  How liberating (and a little scary) did it feel this summer to lose that control?  Three of my favorite books, “Homesick and Happy“, “Free Range Kids” and “Blessings of a B Minus” helped me manage ‘helicoptering’ my own children…but I have to say….I think sending your kids to sleepaway camp is absolutely the best cure for helicoptering!

runningBack in June, do you remember worrying that your child should not be in a bunk with “Jane” and you were so concerned that you called and emailed camp a dozen times? And now Jane and your daughter are arm in arm in nearly every photo? Or that you wanted your son to have extra time at lacrosse because that’s the only sport he likes…and now he wants to play tennis and take an art class in the fall? Or you were so worried that your daughter was sending home letters that she was so homesick and last you saw, she was on stage singing her heart out and wrote that camp is amazing.  Or you wanted to send up special food because your son only eats bagels at home…and now he is insisting you make chicken patties as his homecoming meal!?

dadThis is the magic of camp…kids discovering new things about themselves.  Making mature observations and choices about friendships without their parents’ influence.  You can only imagine how far they have come!  But I applaud you for how far you have come too! While they were coping with feelings of homesickness, you were coping with feelings of ‘childsickness’.  When you get your Child 2.0 back home with you, will you let them tumble, but not fall? Will you be the safety net but not the harness? Will you let them be okay in their own hands?  In the past 2 months, you have done these things by sending them to camp.  You should be proud of them.  And proud of yourself.

with girlsThank you again for the incredible honor it is to be your child’s Camp Director with my husband Mitch.  We take being Camp Parents and your parenting partners very seriously.  Please keep us posted in the off-season about their successes, accomplishments and achievements no matter how big or small.  We share your joy in their growth and look forward to cheering them on from the sidelines, until June 2014 when we get a front row seat!

Enjoy the week!


Something in the air tonight…

It’s time for another edition of Mitch’s blog/mix mashup…Camp Towanda updates set to music (we’ve added the You Tube music links for your listening pleasure).  With week 6 getting underway, there is definitely something IN THE AIR TONIGHT.

Greece1YELLOW SUBMARINE. Yesterday actually felt like a Sunday.  Dark, damp and heavy downpours. Actually felt good; giving us a chance to have some rainy day activities , extended rest hour and a little “Bunk-O” before our indoor rainy day BBQ!

Staff presentation of GREASE was fantastic! Great sprit, great sing alongs and then…

The Olympic fever triggered; rumors of psych outs and fake outs have begun. Very intense;
At flagpole line up last night, there was strange delay with the flag lowering bugle…created quite a stir.

Then at tonight’s  show, there were reports that my shirt color, my raincoat, kept changing colors every few minutes… red to blue to red to blue! At the end of Friends, Alma Mater & Taps, the lights went out, Pink Floyd’s ““Is there anybody out there?” intro sounded, the fog horn blasted; kids and staff started screaming and then I simply announced  there was going to be an 8:30 AM Reveille!

You can sense the excitement and anticipation…who knows when, how , where and what??????  Stay tuned..will be in a few minutes?, hours?, days?  Or at all!!!

After taps, I marched the TWEENs through the shadows of the night lights , serpentined around the older kids who were under the basketball lights…into the mess hall, then into the kitchen where they thought they were going to mop and clean; instead, I surprised them with make your own ice cream sundaes; it was all fun and games until Stephanie heard the noise came into the kitchen and we all scattered…hiding under the cook’s table, in the vegetable section and the walk in fridge….Stephanie caught us, but then joined us in the ice cream party… it got crazy as I “distributed” the toppings in an incredible dumping of “way too much oreos, sprinkles and syrup” to the kids…it flowed over their bowls, on their arms, down the table and onto the floor…everyone was laughing in amazement and incredible disbelief…  a great fun ice cream party….afterwards, they marched silently through the night back to their cabins, not getting caught by The Head Counselor, whispering “this never happened”…a secret between, me, Stephanie and the Tweens! SHHHHHHHH.

After cleaning and resetting the kitchen, we did the same thing with the Middie Boys; all the same except, the boys were really sloppy and smelly!

Just completing an OD patrol with Stephanie and Amy, The Girls Head Counselor (HC), we talked about how incredible the aura of camp is, we proudly refer to the special feeling that happens at camp once we pass the visiting day hump…everyone is smiling, feeling good, active, excited and just overall, part of the Camp Towanda FAMILY!

I feel that I am not even coming close to what happens here; there is a bond and sense of being part of something special and welcoming and comforting; that just brings out the best in each individual here.

Okay, I’m actually going to go to bed soon…
Good night Towanda

-I SCREAM Mitch and 2 SCOOPS Stephanie

PS: I actually have fun thinking of Song Titles!

Visiting Day is this week!

Stephanie blueberry picking with the Jets!

Visiting Day is this week! The campers are now quite settled and into the FLOW of things.  They are in a groove, and adjusting beautifully to camp life with their camp family.  The homesickness hump seems to be behind us and we are so proud of our campers for working through those feelings and for our staff for helping them grow.

Camp offers such an amazing opportunity for kids to actually experience and work through homesick feelings…where else would they learn to work through them in such a safe, nurturing environment?

We are halfway through the summer, and our campers are excited to be reunited with you for the day!  As you can imagine, some of those feelings of homesickness may re-emerge.  We can assure you that they will now be able to cope more easily with these feelings as they now have the skills.

What’s actually cool about homesickness is that once they are able to cope with those feelings, they emerge into what’s called a FLOW STATE (Summer Camp Handbook tells us more about this…it’s a great read; check my Reading List!).

For basically 3 straight weeks from Visiting Day through the end of the summer (including Camp Trips, Olympics and Bunk Feast) our campers get to experience 3 weeks of FLOW, which is amazing f`or their mental health.  In the off-season, we are all so busy and scheduled that this FLOW STATE is unfamiliar.

Be prepared…when your campers come home they will actually be coming off a camp-high! They may even seem addicted to camp! In addition to so many other wonderful things, camp is actually good for their mental health (another gift you are giving your child).

So homesickness is totally normal…your child by now knows how to cope and is surrounded by his Camp Family (who won’t let him/her fall).  The only thing you may want to also prepare for…when your child comes home in just a few weeks, they will actually be Campsick…and there’s only one cure for that!

We look forward to seeing our Camp Families on Visiting Day and getting into a FLOW STATE starting July 22nd!


Stephanie’s Top 10 Book List For Camp Parents

An interview with Stephanie Reiter by our Social Media Director, Lauren Forman

photo 2 Over the years, our Camp Towanda families have enjoyed Stephanie’s Recommended Reading List for parents.  It is available in the forms & documents section in CampMinder and includes a healthy list of books that Mitch and Stephanie have read and like to share with our camp families.  We have even heard from some parents that they chose our camp because of Stephanie’s amazing reading list!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephanie, surrounded by some of her favorite parenting books (and there are dozens, if not hundreds).  I enjoyed watching her eyes light up as she recalled how each of these books had a profound impact on her approach to parenting and being a Camp Director.

As a parent myself, I was eager to get a peek inside Stephanie’s library as she shared with me her years of experience as a mom of two boys, and her insights and observations as a Camp Director for almost over 25 years.

We hope you can find some “Rest Hour Time” to read a few of these inspiring gems:


  1. For parents of young girls: Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher: An accurate perspective on what girls are going through today.  The Girl Within by Emily Hancock: Identifies the period between 8-10 and the onset of adolescence.
  2. For parents of boys: Raising Cain by Dan Kindlon: Insight into the psyches of boys and how adults can help them flourish.  The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian: Insight into what boys need to become strong, responsible men.
  3. For parents with two or more kids: Siblings without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish: In so many ways, at camp bunkmates are just like siblings in the Camp Family.  We apply many of these ideas to help our camp brothers and sisters get along.
  4. For parents to read before sending their kids off to camp: Homesick and Happy by Michael Thompson and The Summer Camp Handbook by Chris Thurber.  Both of these books are great if you are feeling a little anxious (which is normal) about sending your child to camp for the first time.  These books help you remember what a gift you are giving your child.  How you should be proud of yourself that you made camp a priority for your family, and how time away from parents helps kids grow.
  5. For campers to read before coming to camp (only if they want to!): Off to Camp by Myra Pravda.  This is a Camp Towanda favorite and helps kids prepare for the summer camp experience.
  6. For a calmer approach to parenting: Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B Minus by Wendy Mogul.  Oh, how I loved these books! The first is for parents of younger children; the second is for those with teenagers. If you only read one book, make it one of these!  Based on Jewish teachings of the Torah, these books provide answers to raising self-reliant and compassionate children in a culture of competition and materialism.
  7. For how to reap the benefits of camp, year-round: Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy  This book is a bit of a throw back to how people parented years ago… when we were less fearful and overprotective and gave our kids more freedom to be independent.  Camp is a wonderful outlet where kids can reap the benefits of being “free-range” while still in a very safe environment.  It’s the way the world used to be…or should be!  It’s an interesting perspective and a good read!
  8. For parenting in today’s world: How to Raise Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World by H. Steven Glenn & Too Much of a Good Thing by Dan Kindlon.  Good for parents who are challenged by raising kids in a self-indulgent world.  Opens our eyes to the difference between being a good friend and a good parent.
  9. For bully-proofing our children: Take the Bully by The Horns by Sam Horn.  Unfortunately, we now know as adults, there are always going to be bullies in life.  This book teaches and empowers your children how to be bully-proof.
  10. For kids (and for us to remember what it’s like to be a kid!): Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, by Carol McCloud, Oh the Places You’ll Go!  by Dr. Seuss and Growing Up Is Hard by Dr. Laura Schlesinger.  All three of these have a wonderful perspective and great life lessons. I would encourage you share them with your children and read them yourselves.
photo 1

With Stephanie’s bookshelves filled with so much more than just parenting books, we had to ask her some more questions about the other books in her collection.

 4 Quick Questions for Stephanie

  1. What book changed your life? The Mind Body Prescription by Dr. Sarno.  For so many years I experienced very bad back pain.  This book was recommended to me by a Senior Staffer at Towanda and literally changed my life.  It helped me realize the powerful connection between the mind and the body.  Thanks to this book I can now say I am PAIN-FREE and have such a deeper understanding of myself (without undergoing any medical intervention).  Crazy, but true!
  2. What books do you want to read next? The Great Gatsby (before the movie comes out) and a book about the artist Cezanne.
  3. Have you ever considered writing a book?  After reading The Mind Body Prescription, I would love to write something about how TMS (Tension Myositis Syndrome) presents itself in children.  I see so many children experiencing physical pain related to their emotional stress.  I would love to give children these tools to live free of pain…and just be happy, healthy kids!
  4. With all of your creative endeavors, what are you currently working on? My website! I am so thrilled to be a part of a new online gallery called Gallery Sprout where you can see all of my work and read about what inspired me to create each painting.  I cannot wait to get to camp this spring and paint a little before we kick it into high gear! You can visit my new gallery here.
Visit our Pinterest Page, where you can find links to all of these books and more camp inspiration!


Healthy, Happy Campers!

By Stephanie Reiter

Several people have shared with us the recent article in the NYTimes about food at summer camp. Here at Camp Towanda we are all about kid-friendly, parent-approved healthy choices. Our nutritionist helps us create balanced menu so that kids actually eat, enjoy and try. We always serve fresh fruit throughout the day, and campers can find fresh vegetables, brown rice, pastas, and many other healthy choices at our extensive salad bar. We strongly believe that refreshing and nourishing snacks help keep our kids properly fueled for success here at camp (hey, just ask your kids about our Camp Towanda Fusion Water)!

At Camp Towanda our health and wellness initiatives go beyond the dining hall. When we came to camp in 1991, I decided to start a garden.  What started out as a passion project of mine has evolved over the years to become a haven in the center of Camp Towanda.

Fruits, vegetables and herbs aren’t the only things that grow in our garden. Our campers grow too!  The benefits of our garden program truly benefit the whole child, beyond just teaching healthy, natural eating:

“Gardening captures kids’ interest, teaches them nurturing skills, gives them a sense of pride in their accomplishments, introduces them to try healthful foods, and provides a way to improve and give back to the community. Working in a garden can be one of a child’s first experiences with care-taking.  Understanding that he is responsible for the growth or decline of the plants in the garden allows him to see the results of being responsible, protective, and gentle. Additionally, the delayed but inevitable gratification that comes with growing a garden teaches patience and self-confidence.”[1]

Beyond these universal benefits of gardening with children, our garden also serves another purpose here at Camp Towanda.  The garden is a safe, nurturing place during free time where campers can get a little extra TLC and a break from the day-to-day excitement.  It does for campers what a spa does for grown-ups!  The results are beautiful and campers feel confident, recharged and renewed to re-enter their daily routine.

I am also very excited about how we have been able to take some of our freshest ingredients (like romaine, corn and rosemary) and bring them to our Farmhouse where campers are whipping up delicious creations in our Camp Culinary program.

To learn more about our garden and other inspirational tips about gardening with children, visit our Pinterest board “Stephanie’s Garden”: http://pinterest.com/camptowanda/stephanie-s-garden.

[1] National Garden Association, “Why Youth Gardens”.