Megan Dunham of Half-Pint House
My husband and I met while working at a youth camp in Colorado. That year was my first. I was 19 and I spent it working in the camp kitchen. It was my husband’s third and he had just joined the camp staff in a full-time capacity. Fast forward three years and we were married and both involved as full-time camp staff. Between the two of us we experienced camp life in just about every capacity you can imagine – from kitchen crew to counselor to store manager to resident camp director we pretty much did everything there is to do at camp at some point during the 10 years we worked there.
One big thing we dealt with on a semi-regular basis was homesickness in our youngest campers. The camp we worked with started off with 2nd graders and went all the way up through high school. The camp we worked at was an overnight camp that lasted a full week. Kids were dropped off on Sunday afternoons and picked up again on Friday mornings.
I’m here to tell you that not all 8-year-olds are created equally. I mean this in the most respectful way. Just because a camp says they will take an 8-year-old, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should send YOUR 8-year-old. Maybe you should, but not on the merit of their being 8. If your child is emotionally ready to handle five nights away from you, then sure thing, consider it. But I’d like to challenge parents to really take stock of their child’s emotional well-being before packing them up and sending them off to the mountains for a week.
Two years ago our four children were 6, 8, 9, and 11. They wanted to go to camp and we wanted to give them that experience. We had three who were old enough to attend the camp we had worked with for so many years and by this point in time they were also operating a day-camp at a nearby property that started with 1st graders. We considered sending our oldest three to the overnight camp and our youngest to the day-camp. But then we considered again. Our third daughter is very emotionally sensitive and while that has some really sweet characteristics to it, it also tends to make her seem younger than she really is some of the time. We didn’t think she was quite ready for a full week in the mountains. In her case, even though she was chronologically old enough for overnight camp, we opted to send her to day-camp with her younger sister for the week.
It was a really good decision.
Now our kids are two years older and they are all attending the overnight camp. Our youngest is 8, but she’s at a different place in her “8-ness” than our third daughter was when she was 8. It doesn’t make one better than the other, just different. The four of them are going to have a great time at camp and we’re confident that they can all handle it this year.
I’m not going to give a list of things you can do to prevent homesickness in your young camper. That’s what Google is for, right? There are some common sense things you can do like making sure you’ve talked with your child about what they are going to experience and making sure they understand when you are coming back to get them. If your camp allows care packages to be sent, SEND ONE. Trust me on this – it’s such a morale boost to kids to get a public call-out during mail time. But don’t force the issue, either. Most camps discourage telephone use because it doesn’t usually help a homesick camper – it tends to make things worse. If you don’t fully trust the camp your child is attending to make good decisions on behalf of your child, then choose another camp that you DO trust. In our experience, most cases of homesick campers were really cases of camp-sick parents.
So choose the camp wisely and make sure your child is ready. Once those two things are taken care of, send your child off for the week to have a rip-roaring good time making friends, learning to canoe, and having the time of their lives. Because if you will let them have a great time, they probably will.