For generations of American children, summer camp has been a family rite of passage. They’d get some exercise, maybe learn a new skill, and hopefully build a few new friendships before the lazy days of summer were over. Whatever the focus of camp, kids can mostly count on a predictable ritual of sunny days and nights around the campfire.

But the pandemic-interrupted summers of 2020 and 2021 turned the camping experience, like most other parts of American life, upside down. Some camps closed while others tried to house children and took safety precautions. For many parents of children too young to be vaccinated, camp simply wasn’t an option.

So this year, many families may be trying something “normal” that they haven’t tried since 2019, or haven’t tried at all.

And after two years of hybrid school schedules and online learning, kids can feel awe at in-person camp.

Fortunately, camp experts say, there are plenty of ways stay-at-home parents can help their summer campers.

SHARE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR CAMPER

This year, “kids need more,” says Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association. “They need more supervision, they need more training.”

Camp directors and counselors can be especially appreciative of getting to know the children they host. Communicate with those in charge: Knowing how a child responds to conflict “helps us provide a better experience for the camper,” agrees Julie Bowman, manager of camps and public experiences at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

Consider sending a note to camp directors to share with your child strategies that work for you.

COMMUNICATE CAREFULLY

Parents often write letters to sleepover campers explaining how much they miss the children at home. These parents mean well, “but that 9-year-old really thinks his parents need them. They’re worried about their parents,” says Bob Bechtold, director of programs at Pittsburgh’s Sarah Heinz House, which operates a day camp and an overnight camp. And they may feel more nostalgic.

Instead of focusing your letter on how much you miss the child, Bechtold says, “there should be more prompts for kids to talk about their experiences and tell them how proud you are.”

Mention that you are looking forward to hearing their stories about camp and that you are so glad they are having new experiences.

“That puts them in a good place where they can be successful, where they’re not worried about their home, where they’re not thinking about what’s going on there,” says Bechtold. “That’s what camp is all about: making those memories, living in the moment.”

Also, let your child know in your letters that this can be a summer to try new things and have fun instead of worrying about standing out, says Rosenberg.

“Making mistakes is an important part of learning, development and growth mindset,” he says, and “that’s what’s great about camp. It is a place where children can really learn to improve their disposition, learn and become more curious, more discovery-oriented. And don’t be afraid to go for it and try something new.”

DELIVERY OF SUPPLIES

Campgrounds often have emergency items like towels that a camper can borrow. But kids can feel surprisingly uncomfortable telling a counselor they’ve forgotten something, says Bechtold. Some will dispense with key items rather than ask for help.

So if your child hasn’t left for camp yet, confirm what they need, even if you think you know, and use a written checklist when packing. And if camp has already started, let your son know that if he forgets something, he can tell the counselors about it and ask for help to remedy the situation.

TREATMENT WITH DEVICES

Help your child understand and follow the camp policy on phones and digital devices. Sometimes the rules can be jarring for kids who have spent a lot of time on digital devices over the past two years.

At Bowman Day Camp, “we encourage you not to bring a cell phone,” she says. “And if they do bring a cell phone, we ask that they put it away.”

Rosenberg says this can be especially stressful for some kids who are more used to communicating via text messages or on gaming platforms where they aren’t expected to show emotion or empathically connect with others.

If your child hasn’t started camp yet, please confirm the policy on phones and other devices and prepare your camper for it. If camp is underway and your child is frustrated that device use is limited, try encouraging him to embrace a screen-free (or at least minimal screen) summer.

The beauty of camp, says Rosenberg, is that children develop their nascent identities by forming face-to-face connections with others.

Ideally, he says, millions of children will put aside digital screens this summer and “start building stronger social-emotional connections, the human connections we all need.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Melissa Rayworth writes on topics including parenting and home design for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at @mrayworth.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.