Many first-time campers worry that they might miss home while they are at camp. They worry that homesickness might get in the way of enjoying camp. The fact is many campers miss home while they are at camp, even experienced campers, no matter what their age! Here are some tips you can use to help campers overcome homesickness and have a great time at your camp . . . .
- Parents and campers choose summer camp sessions together — Guide parents to include their children in the decision-making process and encourage their children that camp will be fun if they immerse themselves in the activities and keep busy. Camp is a place to try new things and make new friends.
- Parents write letters to campers before camp starts — Make sure that parents know appropriate language to use in writing to campers. Quickly engaging campers in activities before a problem arises is key. Parents are our partners in setting campers up for success.
- Adopt an appropriate phone/e-mail policy — If kids use cell phones whenever they want at camp, they could be talking to parents about a situation before staff know there is a problem. The story they may be telling to parents may be true, false, or exaggerated and may prompt the parent to drive up immediately to pick up his or her child.
- Instruct campers to bring plenty of self-addressed envelopes — Missing home means there's something special at home that campers love, and that's a good thing! Encourage staff to help campers write home and tell parents about all the fun stuff at camp!
- Train staff to recognize the signs of homesickness — Find out what campers enjoy and create an outlet for them to pursue it. Try a buddy system. Start early and keep them engaged in camp and their new buddy(s) before there is a problem.
- Train staff to help campers understand that it's ok to miss home — Make sure camp staff are approachable. Sometimes kids feel they cannot talk to their counselors about problems.
- Maintain an open line of communication — Make sure campers know there is an open line of communication between staff and campers.
- Put ego aside if a camper really needs to go home — Camp directors and staff must focus on being available for each child, not just the entire cabin.
- Make every camper feel like a "rock star" — Remind campers that there are so many exciting things to do at camp that they can't do at home! Tell campers that camp is a great time to be "on your own," making your own decisions, and growing up in a friendly, supportive atmosphere.
- Remember the special things that only happen at CAMP — Distract. Distract. Distract. Find ways to keep campers busy with activities to take their minds off what is bothering them.
Submitted by: Paul Denowski, YMCA Camp Wapsie; Rob Grierson, McGaw YMCA Camp Echo; Tony Oyenarte, Camp Crystal Lake; Edited by A.L. “ALF” Ferreira, YMCA Camp Indian Springs.
Originally published in the 2008 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.