Preparing for Overnight Camp
Q: “My fifth-grader wants to go to an overnight summer camp for the first time and I think it’s a great idea. How can I best prepare my child to have a good experience?”
A: As you and your fifth- grader discuss your summer plans, think first about what motivates your child to take on new adventures. If your child is adventurous and fearless, then your task ahead will be easier. If your child tends to be slow to warm up to new things, then you have time between now and summer camp to create opportunities that will make going to camp much easier.
If your child likes to be part of the research and planning, then doing all the registrations and online part of the work together will be great. Pay close attention to what is most interesting and what isn’t as you look at all the activities. Those might be the areas that you want to plan some pre-camp experiences before summer comes. If they have packing lists and pre-camp physicals as a pre-requirement, print them off at the beginning and post them as a reminder of what you need to do over the next few months.
If sleeping anywhere but home feels uncomfortable for your child, you might start with inviting a friend or two over and having a backyard campout. Try to incorporate some TV/video-free evening events to create the new experience. Adding a trip to Mohawk Park for a scavenger hunt might do some preparation for identifying trees, shrubs and animals. If you have a few kids over, have some prizes for most objects found. Pick some campfire stories to be told by flashlight for the bedtime routine.
Sometimes our kids can be shy. Meeting new people may feel uncomfortable for them. Are there some places where your child is comfortable? When you talk about going to a summer camp, talking about everyone being together doing activities could be thought of as creating a summer camp community.
What makes a community work? Belonging to a group, sharing common interests and activities and, while everyone in a group belongs, you can help your child understand that he will be closer to some people than others. Your child might be able to discuss other communities that are part of your family’s life. Whether it is church, school, friends, neighbors, sports teams, scouting or your family, belonging to a group gives us opportunities to discover new parts of ourselves in relationship, both to one another, and the events of that group. We might feel vulnerable alone, but when we think of ourselves as part of a group, we are stronger just by our belonging.
If going to a place where your child will not know many people is overwhelming, this summer might be a good time for your child to practice some social skills in a place away from home. Even before going to camp, the two of you can practice the seven steps to meeting new people. You probably have learned these as well, and can share examples from your life of how you use them. Make sure your child knows any new skill will feel awkward at first. The steps include:
We always do best when we are relaxed. Finding out how to get ourselves in a relaxed state is important. Most of us use positive self-talk. Developing an inner monolog that states, “I am a good person,” “I can learn new things,” “I am curious about others,” all can help give us confidence when we reach out to a total stranger.
When we reach out to others, we volunteer information about ourselves at the very beginning. We share our name, where we live, and maybe say something that we notice about the other person. If that does not break the ice, talking about music, school, or sports might work.
Pay attention to the non-verbal messages you send. Are you smiling? Do you stand in an open and relaxed manner? Do you maintain eye contact when you talk to the person or look around at others?
Practice good listening skills. When the other person talks, pay close attention, be prepared to ask questions about what the other person said. Nod and smile showing non-verbal agreement of hearing what he or she said. People like to feel really heard in a conversation. If you feel an urge to interrupt and share your own story, slow down, wait until the other person has finished talking.
In each and every conversation, we have an opportunity to be ourselves, who we really are, not who we think we should be or who we think others would respect or like. In fact, when we are open to meeting someone new, we are open to discovering new aspects of ourselves. This is part of what the gift of meeting new people includes, getting to know ourselves better.
Once we meet new people, what do we do about the ones we really like? It takes effort to stay connected and turn a good conversation into a possible future relationship. These steps include using the other person’s name, smiling at the person when you see him or her in a group, including the new friend in activities, and continuing the small conversations when opportunities arise.
One of the great things about summer camp and meeting new people is that your child might meet new friends that could last beyond the camp. Getting the necessary information so that contact can last will make it much easier.
Both you and your child may have different goals from your summer planning. You might wish that your child has new experiences, opportunities to feel confident, learn new skills, and appreciate being away and coming back home. Your child may welcome the distance from parents, the opportunity to learn from both successes and failures, and to either be with old friends or meet new ones. Allow the goals to belong to your child and listen carefully when camp is over to what your child has learned.
I hope your fifth-grader will be able to tell you what he needs to be ready for summer camp. If that doesn’t happen, ask your child to let you know when it is time to do the packing, and to do any necessary shopping or getting medical releases, so there won’t be any last minute surprises. Since you both placed the requirements and packing lists in a visible place when you enrolled, you may only need to point out where the list is posted. Highlighting things to do and crossing them off the list once they are accomplished will help keep you both focused.
I hope you both have a great summer!