Right now, many parents are contacting camp directors across the country trying to make sure their son or daughter gets into the “right bunk.” The only question is, what is the “right bunk?” What does that even mean? For parents, the purpose of sending a child to sleep-away camp remains unchanged — they want their child to make friends, enjoy the activities, learn new skills, and make an easy transition to living away from home.
There is no one “formula” to make this transition easy. An experienced camp director is your best resource and can often put your mind at ease. As social circles change, many campers request new bunks. Sometimes these requests are a perfect choice for that particular camper, but often campers select bunks for the wrong reasons. Some campers believe that they will have more friends by changing bunks. However, doing so often alienates those that have already bonded with this camper. Other campers may think they will have more fun in another bunk, but there is no way to accurately gauge this; it is mostly a camper’s perception based entirely on speculation, rather than reality. Each camper is unique and brings various talents and personalities to his or her bunk.
My son spent his childhood at sleep-away camp and experienced all different types of campers with a vast array of personalities. I was pleased that although he may have been quieter than so many of his camp friends, he nevertheless enjoyed his camp experiences and learned a great deal from all his years of interacting with children he may not have originally selected as bunkmates. Bonding with his bunkmates and making friends was not an easy process for him — he had to learn how to tolerate living with people who are different than himself, and he had to learn to give others time to adjust to his personality and style as well. Those challenges have certainly paid off. He recently attended student-parent orientation at Harvard University and immediately made friends. He organized groups of students to attend programs together and even befriended some of the quieter students, making sure they were included in these groups as well. He had a fantastic weekend and will be starting his first year at Harvard in the fall with many new friends.
It was obvious to me that his confidence and leadership skills were mostly learned at sleep-away camp. Living with campers who had a vast array of interests and backgrounds enabled him to develop skills that enhanced his social and emotional growth over the years.
Parents are delighted to see their children use their summer break in a healthy, productive way. A good sleep-away camp is the key to teaching not only physical skills, like swimming, kayaking, and water skiing, but also the emotional skills that help to develop a child’s personal growth and leadership ability. Most importantly, sleep-away camp does all of this and more, without the child even realizing all of the changes that are occurring, which will ultimately have a positive effect on his or her future.
Overall, sleep-away camp helps a child to develop his/her self-confidence, self-esteem, independence, leadership, and social skills. These skills are all a part of the “camp experience” that will certainly last a lifetime. So, whether this is your child’s first summer, or even his or her eighth summer, the next time you consider changing your child’s bunk, or are worried about the group in which he or she will be placed, take a moment to realize that change is not always better. In fact, change might even do more harm than good. Instead, rely on your camp’s excellent and dedicated staff to provide individual attention to your camper, enabling him or her to draw on his or her own strengths to shape the perfect camp experience. I’m confident that if you do, your child will have a wonderful summer!
Jackie Zuckerman, LCSW, is the waterfront director at Camp Westmont in Poyntelle, Pennsylvania. She is also a certified clinical social worker and the mother of four children, all of whom have attended sleep-away camp at Camp Westmont.