“Who Will Do This For You At Camp?”

With spring in full bloom (okay, at least there is no snow), parents are busy preparing, planning, shopping and labeling in anticipation of sending their kids off to camp! While the process can be fun for kids, it can be overwhelming for parents who are experiencing this for the first time. It also is a constant reminder that the day is getting closer to put them on a bus or plane and let them experience life without you.

Most of the time kids are busy being kids and don’t give a lot of thought to their excitement, fears and worries leading up to this experience away from home, unless their parents give them something to worry about.

Did you know that a parent’s anxiety levels about sending their child to camp are associated with higher levels of homesickness in the child? For example, have you found yourself saying any of the following (even if it is with a wink and a smile)?

  • Child has messy hair. Parent says: “Who’s going to brush it for you at camp?”
  • Child is a picky eater. Parent says: “What are you going to find to eat at camp?”
  • Child is slow to tie his shoes. Parent says: “How are you going to get out of the bunk on time at camp?”
  • Child is a focused athlete at home. Parent says: “Are you are going to ask the director to get you more play time this summer?”
  • Child has trouble picking out clothes. Parent says: “What are you going to look like every day at camp?”
  • Child struggles falling to sleep at night. Parent says: “Who is going to tickle your back and tell you stories at night?”

You get the idea…we can all probably insert a million more of these parentisms that of course come from a good place, but those concerns are the reason you are sending your child to camp! Camp is the cure! For 7, 8, 9, 10 years, your children have relied on you to be their advocate, their housekeeper, their chef, their stylist and their cuddle pillow, their everything. Sending them to camp says, “I’m so proud of how grown up you are. You are ready to do some of these things for yourself, to feel great in your own hands and solid on your own feet. You are ready for this experience and we picked the perfect camp to help you develop into a healthy and independent person.”

Maybe their hair will be a little messy in the photos you see online, but what you didn’t see is how fast they tied their shoes and were the first down to lineup. Maybe they write a letter home saying they didn’t like the chicken at camp, but what you didn’t see is how they have a newfound love for the salad bar and spaghetti and meatballs! Maybe they didn’t play extra baseball 3x a week, but what you didn’t see is that they are too busy mastering waterskiing on the lake.

And it’s okay you are missing these milestones and growing moments, because they wouldn’t happen if you were there!

So as you approach the next several weeks leading up to camp, focus on the positive. Get your camper involved in the camp shopping and labeling, empower them with fun stationery for communication, talk honestly about the possibility of homesickness, make sure they have a successful sleepover or two, practice saying good bye, and keep a smile on your face (don’t let them see you cry!).

When parents put aside their own anxieties, they give children the confidence that camp is going to be an incredible learning experience for everyone!

To learn more about the expressed parental anxiety and camp click here and here.

Worried about the possibility of homesickness? If you haven’t read “Homesick and Happy” by Michael Thompson, PHD, we strongly recommend it to all our camp families. We also have some more great ways to prepare your child for homesickness (and parents for childsickness). Click here to read about them on the Camp Towanda parenting blog.

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.

Camp Philosophy Isn’t Just for the Summer!

Our Social Media Director, Lauren Eckstein Forman shares her recent experiences at the CT Book Club and how the lessons learned in “Homesick & Happy” came in very handy on a recent family vacation! 

I recently attended my second annual Camp Towanda Book Club, where new and seasoned parents discussed the book “Homesick & Happy” by Michael Thompson.  When I first sent my 8 year old son to camp, I used the wisdom in this book and the guidance from our very experienced Camp Directors Mitch and Stephanie Reiter to help me navigate sending my child off to camp! I learned what I should say, what I shouldn’t say, how to handle my child’s questions and how to manage homesickness -the anticipation of homesickness and receiving word of homesickness from afar.

IMG_2875Being a first time parent, I had a ton of nervous and excited energy about getting my child on the bus and sending him off to camp.  I loved camp so much and wanted him to love it too.  Which would lead me to want to talk about going to camp.  The more I talked, the more anxious my child became.  Mitch and Stephanie Reiter advised me to stop talking.  From February to June was a long time and they promised me he would be ready!!! Boy were they right.  Between this time last year and June, there were plenty of things that got my child ready for camp.  The camp shopping (the cool uniforms, the spray water bottles, the college team bedding, the stationery, the gimmicks, the STUFF!), talking with and meeting his new camp big brother, pretending to say goodbye to him every morning when I dropped him at school, watching videos of camp, and ultimately talking about the possibility of homesickness when camp got much closer- all helped get him ready!  But I needed to be ready as a parent too!

There were a few of pieces of advice that resonated with me regarding homesickness that helped prepare me for camp.  They would eventually serve me well in other areas of parenting.

1. Let children know homesickness is totally normal. It means they have a home worth missing. Give them examples of times when you experienced and overcame homesickness.

2. Don’t make a deal. At our book club, Mitch and Stephanie shared a story that in their 26 years of being Camp Directors, they have of course experienced extreme cases of homesickness.  In these more severe circumstances, the child was able to speak with their parent. Once their parent said, “we’re not coming to get you”, it was like a light switch. The child immediately stopped thinking about the possibility of going home, and just had fun! If you make a deal that you will take your child home if they are unhappy, you are dramatically decreasing your chances of both of you having a successful summer.

3. Take a vacation from parenting and don’t feel guilty.  Let’s face it, parenting is tough stuff. It is challenging, rewarding and exhausting. Letting go and enjoying the idea that your child can thrive and stumble and thrive under the nurturing care of someone else can be liberating. You need to recharge your battery too, get perspective and have grown-up time.  As a result, you can be a better parent when they return.

c65e200e-8a92-4e36-b07b-925356e804bcMy son had an incredible summer! We both grew in ways I could never have imagined. He became more confident, independent, resilient and flexible.  I became more confident, patient, respectful and proud. The whole experience brought us closer. When I asked him if he was going to be homesick this summer, he said “not at all. It’s only 7 weeks. I’ll be fine.”

Fast forward to our recent February ski vacation.  Both of my children, my 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter, were headed to ski school! This was their fourth winter vacation in ski school.  No issues ever.  A little complaining, but nothing like I was about to experience.  My son was placed in a different group from his best friend. In years prior, they were ALWAYS together and the expectation was that they would be together again. However, this year was different.  When we picked up our son from ski school, we were surprised he was not with his friend.  He was TOTALLY fine with it.  In fact he made 3 new friends, wanted to have a playdate with one and really got to know these kids (one went to sleepaway camp in Maine, they all loved video games and they looked forward to being in ski school together the next day). I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

My 5 year old daughter on the other hand gave me a run for my money.  I was at the top of the mountain on our third run of the day.  My husband and I were with two other couples, enjoying grown-up time and the freedom of skiing, when I got the call from an UNKNOWN number. My heart sank.  It was ski school. My daughter was only there for 90 minutes when she came inside crying, refusing to go back out.  The ski school said “are you coming?” I took a deep breath and thought…what would Mitch and Stephanie tell me to do.  And then my camp parent skills kicked in.  I said “I am at the top of the mountain. I am not coming to get her.  She only thinks she is stopping because she thinks I am getting her. Please put her on the phone and don’t tell her I am coming.” I calmly told my daughter that I missed her too and cannot wait to hear about her day when we get home.  I reminded her of all the fun times she had in ski school before.  But most importantly I said, “I am at the top of the mountain. I cannot get you. Please try and have fun and I will see you later.”

For the next 4 hours, I checked my phone, but no calls. I figured she had to have gotten back on the mountain, right? Sure enough at 3:15pm she greeted me with the BIGGEST smile.  She gave “two thumbs up to the skiing” and “two thumbs down to the crying”.  Because I stayed strong and because she didn’t think I was getting her, the light switch turned and she focused on having a good time.  Every day from there got a little bit easier.  I got zero calls and my daughter and I picked a new song that we would both sing on the mountain if we missed each other.  It was our way of sending a camp letter and it worked. I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

Because for 7 weeks or for just a few hours, every parent needs a guilt-free vacation. And every kid deserves to feel independent, proud and a sense of accomplishment.  Homesickness can be rough. But getting over homesickness will last a lifetime!

Now the real question is…when am I sending my daughter off to camp?

Do you have any examples when you used your super camp-parent skills to deal with situations at home? Please share with us!

You’ve Got Mail!

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We hope you are enjoying your summer at home and have found some time to write your camper.  Campers LOVE getting mail!!!! Throughout the summer, we promise they will write you back.  But we think it’s only fair to manage your expectations on those first few letters…let’s discuss…

Did you go to summer camp? Do you remember “mail call”? This was a time when someone from your bunk ran down to the head counselors’ shack to retrieve your bunk’s mail. A counselor or camper would then distribute the mail around the bunk as you eagerly awaited a letter from home.  You loved getting letters from home!

Now do you remember letter-writing days? These were the times when you HAD to take a break from all the action and fun, and scribble down anything you could to fill a page and meet your requirement of sending a letter home.  Do you remember writing a letter at night when you missed home? Or at rest hour when you were a little frustrated by a bunkmate, and the only person you wanted to tell was your mom?  Or you just wrote “Having fun. Gotta go.” Can you imagine how your parents felt receiving those letters? It kind of makes you laugh right?

You give the gift of sending your child to camp and in return, they check a few boxes on a small piece of stationery, squeeze out some sentences and hopefully remember to put a stamp on the envelope! By the time that letter gets to you (often days or a week later), the moment has passed, the child has moved on but you are stuck with this letter! Oh the joys of being a child (and a parent).

Now with that in mind, please re-read our thoughts on letter writing in the Parent Guide. “Note to parents: Throw away the first two letters. You can call us after you read the third letter!! Take the advice from experienced camp parents, “please ignore the first 2 letters!””

We don’t want to make you think we don’t LOVE letter writing.  We do for many reasons.  Where else in modern times do people write REAL, handwritten letters every week and wait eagerly by the mailbox to receive them? It is an old art form of communication that is so important.  It also is a valuable time for parents, grandparents, friends and children to think about each other without actually asking the other to do anything for them.  It strengthens the bonds in your family and has the potential to be reflective, connective and memorable (has anyone read that book called “P.S. I Hate It Here. Kids’ Letters From Camp”?- it is laugh out loud funny!). It is for all of these reasons that we do suggest that you take the letters with a grain of salt.

One more reason we love letters is because they are a great tool in helping cure homesickness.  Yes- that letter you may receive that sounds a little weepy can actually help your child cope.  According to Homesick & Happy Author Michael Thompson, “Letters are absolutely the most effective antidotes for homesickness because the camper can read and reread them and feel connected to home without the parent actually being present.  Even more important is the letter that the child writes to the parent, because the simple act of expressing the homesickness and mailing it off to the parent means that the child has made a mental connection.”

It is sometimes easier to remember an annoying little incident in a letter, than all the great things that are going on at camp. It is for this reason that we are so excited about our new Camp Towanda Check Box Stationery.  Not only is it super-easy, eco-friendly and exclusive to our camp…it helps remind your child about all the great things that they are experiencing and want to share with their families! (Did you download it from CampMinder and print copies for your child to put in their stationery box? You can still send them some copies).

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Oh letters. Write them. Read them. But most importantly, SAVE THEM.  They will make you laugh one day! And you can give them to your child when they are grown up and sending their kids off to camp! That’s called Camp Karma!

Do you have a hilarious camp letter (present or past) that you want to share for our collection? Send them to lauren@camptowanda.com.

First time parents- looking for more advice from seasoned camp parents? Check out this blog from last summer.  It features 3 letters from our veteran camp parents to first time parents about “the letters”.

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 (who are celebrating 25 years as owners and directors).  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, 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.

Homesick, Childsick, Campsick!

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With camp about two months away, you are probably busy preparing, packing and planning ahead for what we know will be the best 7 weeks of our child’s year! By now you have probably read our Parent Guide (maybe even a few times), read one of our favorite books “Homesick & Happy” (and our discussion guide in Campminder) and are gearing up both physically and emotionally for letting him or her “go”.  As you cross things off your ‘to-do’ lists, one concern may be lingering.  Will my child be homesick and what will they do at camp to help him or her cope?

home·sick ˈhōmˌsik/ adjectiveexperiencing a longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

Many parents (and some campers) worry about homesickness. Homesickness is totally normal.  It means that you have a home worth missing! Camp is one of those truly unique experiences that allows children to conquer homesickness is a nurturing, loving, safe environment that will eventually become your child’s home away from home and “second family”.  Learning how to overcome homesickness at a young age will help your child more easily deal with these emotions on future school trips, sleepovers, college and beyond.  It’s all part of the process of becoming a healthy independent person! And isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

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While our camp staff are well trained in helping children cope with homesickness, did you know that there are things YOU can do to prepare your child and set them up for success before they leave for camp?

It’s important to talk with your child honestly about what to expect and not ignore that this is part of being away from home. Here are some things you can say and do, which are well captured in the book “Homesick & Happy” (hint- read it if you haven’t already!).

  1. Be honest about the possibility of homesickness. We agree with Michael Thompson’s suggestion in his book of what you can say, “You will probably be a bit homesick when you go to camp. Most kids do, but they get over it in time if they try hard to deal with it head-on and put some effort into coping.  Feeling homesick just means that you have a home worth missing, a place where people love you. It is the most natural thing in the world to feel homesickness. I felt homesick the first time I went away from home. It is part of going to camp.”
  2. Share stories about your own life. Did you go to summer camp or remember a time when you missed home? Is there a sibling in the house who may have been homesick and can openly discuss how they overcame homesickness?
  3. Define 7 weeks. Use a calendar to help them understand what 7 weeks looks like. E.g. 7 weeks is like 7 spring break vacations! 7 weeks is the time between now and your birthday.
  4. Get them involved in getting ready for camp! Ask them to help you fill out your forms, pick out their gear, shop for toiletries, pack, etc.
  5. Trust your parenting partners. Remember that you chose this camp for a reason. No one wants to see your child succeed more than we do!

Ironically, your child will most likely overcome homesickness way faster than you will overcome childsickness! What is childsickness?

child·sick ˈchildˌsik/ adjective: experiencing a longing for one’s child during a period of absence from him or her.

IMG_8799While your child is very busy at camp, trying new things, making new friends and growing up, YOU are at home imagining every detail of their experience and adjusting to life at a distance.  Yes- there is a cure for childsickness, but you have to be willing to “let go”. Easier said than done? Try these 5 things to ensure that you also enjoy your summer.  Because we  know your child will be having a blast!

  1. Leave it to the camp to manage homesickness. When you talk or write with your child, focus on the positive to keep them moving forward in conquering homesickness.
  2. Don’t make any deals. If you let your child think you will take them home if they are unhappy, it can hold them back on having a successful experience.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Your child should practice the skills he will need (and eventually master) at camp -sleepovers, chores, overnight trips.
  4. Enjoy the gift of time. Use letters and slower forms of communication. Stay tuned for a future blog about “letters from camp”.
  5. Take a vacation! You’ve earned it. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs.  You are giving your child the greatest gift by sending them to camp.  You should celebrate!

We can only say, that once your child returns from camp, they may experience similar feelings of homesickness. Not to worry—this is not technically homesickness.  Please see definition below: 

camp·sick ˈcampˌsik/ adjective: experiencing a longing for Camp Towanda during a period of absence from it. Can only be cured by seeing camp friends, attending reunions and returning the next summer! 

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 (who are celebrating 25 years as owners and directors).  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, 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.

About Homesick & Happy

Homesick & Happy – How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow by Michael Thompson is a must read for today’s parents. In an age when it’s the rare child who walks to school on his own, the thought of sending your “little ones” off to sleep-away camp can be overwhelming-for you and for them. But parents’ first instinct-to shelter their offspring above all else-is actually depriving kids of the major developmental milestones that occur through letting them go-and watching them come back transformed. In Homesick and Happy, renowned child psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, shares a strong argument for, and a vital guide to, this brief loosening of ties. A great champion of summer camp, he explains how camp ushers your children into a thrilling world offering an environment that most of us at home cannot: an electronics-free zone, a multigenerational community, meaningful daily rituals like group meals and cabin clean-up, and a place where time simply slows down. In the buggy woods, icy swims, campfire sing-alongs, and daring adventures, children have emotionally significant and character-building experiences; they often grow in ways that surprise even themselves; they make lifelong memories and cherished friends. Thompson shows how children who are away from their parents can be both homesick and happy, scared and successful, anxious and exuberant. When kids go to camp-for a week, a month, or the whole summer-they can experience some of the greatest maturation of their lives, and return more independent, strong, and healthy.Author – Michael Thompson 

Why kids actually EAT at camp!

Last weekend we had our “Group Scoop” orientation, which welcomes new campers to the Camp Towanda family.  It is a great opportunity for parents to get comfortable and most importantly for campers to get psyched for their best summer yet!

One question that gets raised every year by new parents is “What do I do if I have a picky eater? I’m worried he or she won’t eat.” We totally get why this issue concerns you.  Food is what keeps our kids from running on empty.  It fuels their day and can dramatically affect energy levels and moods. As parents, we cater to our kids’ eating quirks, become short-order chefs, manipulate meals and jump through hoops to keep our kids happy and their tanks FULL (we’ve all been there)!  But how can we do that at camp when we have one chef to feed over 700 people? Believe it or not, that’s where the “magic of camp” comes in!

IMG_3424Michael Thompson said it best in his book, “Homesick and Happy”:

“Family-style dining teaches patience, respect, cooperation, and skills. A communal table creates both personal flexibility and powerful-shared meanings, just as Thanksgiving and a Seder do.  The counselors, who may be twenty or twenty-one, play the traditional roles of parents; the children act as one another’s siblings. The novelty of eating with others at camp expands a child’s awareness of eating itself; learning about one another’s food quirks throws your own fears into perspective. Does a child want to be the only kid in the cabin who doesn’t eat a generally popular item? When children see other kids their age eating stuff they’ve never been willing to try at home, and they know there is no Plan B, they may be willing to try the very thing their mother has been unable to get them to eat for years.”

watermelonIt’s true! We’ve seen it happen first hand at Camp Towanda  Yes, the first few days and maybe even weeks, kids grapple with food choices.  Counselors are made aware of eating issues and “food schtick” to help them navigate the process.  Our Camp Mom Laura (also known as “Food Mom Laura”) sits with a different group at every meal.  She encourages campers to try each of the choices prepared by the kitchen…our staff does too! They put each item on their plate and encourage campers to do the same.  There are no “yucks” and “eews” allowed.  Our camp moms also walk through the dining hall, checking on campers who may need help making good choices (which is also good to help manage over-eating).

health-nutrition1Our salad bar is a great place for ‘picky eaters’ to find something they can enjoy and they are pleasantly surprised to see there is so much more than salad at the salad bar!  Reliable back-ups like plain pasta, plain bread, yogurt, fruit, granola, tuna, hard boiled eggs and PB&J are always there! We even see campers getting creative, making egg salad, tuna salad sandwiches, and cheddar cheese pasta.

When parents aren’t around to manage their kids’ quirks, kids grow leaps and bounds, conquer new fears, try new things, get out of their comfort zones and thrive.  If your kid is a picky eater, this is why you send your kid to camp!

Still nervous? Here are “Food Mom” Laura’s Tips for preparing your child for camp life:

  • Teach them how to butter a piece of bread, spread peanut butter or jelly, or butter their own pasta (a counselor will always be there to help, but this may give them confidence and feel in control that they can always have something ‘safe’ to eat)
  • Schedule a family-style meal 1x a week in your home with a food you know they like (and some foods that they don’t—they don’t need to eat them, but it’s good to keep them on the table).
  • Parents can encourage children to taste foods on the parents’ plate. Did you know kids need to try the same food at least 3x before they like it?  You can also place a small portion of a new food on their plate.  Encourage them to taste it.  Repeat this in a couple of weeks with the same dish.
  • For salad lovers out there- take them to a salad bar and have them make their own…they will love this part about camp!
  • Don’t worry…there are always fruit and pretzels available throughout the day at camp (and did we mention canteen, milk & cookies?).

IMG_9133While we know how much you LOVE being a short-order chef, we think you will welcome your NEW and IMPROVED eater with open arms in August and be surprised to hear all the foods they tried and liked.  And if they say “nothing”…well, we’ll never tell their secret about the time they ate sloppy joes at camp!

 

 

 

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 (who are celebrating 25 years as owners and directors).  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, 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.

To learn more about Camp Towanda, visit our website here.