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When your child returns from summer camp, they will be bringing a lot of stuff home with them. Dirty laundry, friendship bracelets, items from the crafts shop, a camp T-shirt, and lots of stories and memories. But at America’s best summer camps, campers also come home with a wide array of new skills and a willingness to be a part of a community.
Being a part of a Summer Camp community is a value proposition for children. They accept (sometimes reluctantly at first) the cons including no cell phones, daily chores, structure and supervision. They accept that these are the cost to be a part of the fun and excitement of camp. As a family with a returning summer camper, you can take advantage of a short window during which they are conditioned to aspects of camp life that can translate perfectly to home. For example, instituting tech free mealtimes might be a lot easier after 2 weeks straight of no tech at camp. If you wait too long after your camper returns from camp and you let them binge on their phones and screens, you will lose the advantage. Start on the drive home. “We were thinking it would be fun to hear your camp stories tonight at dinner so let’s start all leaving our phones off so you can tell us all of your adventures.” A camper who has gone multiple weeks with no tech at camp will receive this message with a lot less anxiety than a week later when they are immersed back into their social media world.
But it’s not just technology that can be leveraged to give family and home life a summer camp boost. Like most of America’s top camps, Kennolyn Camps with locations in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Huntington lake, California, incorporate chores into the daily schedule. These small daily tasks add to a collective sense of responsibility. Some camps use a chore wheel to ensure that tasks are shared equally over the course of the session. Kennolyn has a great instructional article on how to make and incorporate a chore wheel into your family routine.
Another great summer camp tool you can continue at home is bedtime routine. Most great camps have a structured bedtime. At Kennolyn, there are three stages each signaled by a bugle or announcement. These timed periods between starting to go to bed, brushing teeth, and settling down for the night, provide an easy way to eliminate the bedtime struggles. It’s unlikely you have a bugler in the house but a simple timer, set to 15 minutes for each stage works well. I used this system when my children were younger and it was a 30 minute process. What they liked about it was they got some control. As long as the stage goals were met (teeth were brushed by the end of the first 15 minutes and they were in bed by the end of the second 15 minute block) they determined how they spent the time. So they could play for an extra 5 minutes or move along quickly to get more reading time.
Camp can also help you open your child’s mind and palate to a wider range of food choices. Camp is often considered the cure for the pickiest of eaters. The combination of hunger caused by increased activity, defined choices at meal times (no Mom to provide an alternative to the food on offer,) and the fact that everyone enters the camp lodge or dining hall at once to enjoy food and the company of friends, encourages kids to eat whatever is available. Start by asking your camper: “what was your favorite meal at camp?” Do not ask “Did you like the food?” That is a very different question and the savvy kid may quickly answer no, preferring to go back to his or her home cooked favorites. Most camps also have cookouts where campers prepare their own simple meal over a fire. A wonderful way to encourage kids to share family meal preparation is to encourage them to show the family how to cook outdoors. At Kennolyn Camps, the perennial favorite is foil stew and many a camper has returned home to teach Mom and Dad the steps to a super stew cooked over a fire or in a barbecue.
Remember, it may take months for all the camp stories to emerge. Be patient, ask leading questions, and enjoy the conversation. Don’t overreact. Just because your 10 year old says someone fell out of a tree and bounced before being rushed to the infirmary, doesn’t mean it happened! But enjoy the story and check with the camp next time you call. Here are some great, conversation starters for kids returning from summer camp:
Depending on the kind of camp you can ask activity questions: “Tell me about the ropes course (or sailing, or trapeze, or horseback riding etc.)
What did you do on the last night of camp? Most camps have a last night tradition that resonates with the campers.
With some of these tips and suggestions, you can keep the positive influence of summer camp going all year long.