Saturday, June 29, 2013

Writing Your Camper

Kate Margolese currently directs an introductory overnight program for 7 and 8 year olds at Camp Wohelo in Raymond, Maine in the summer where she has spent 16 summers as camper and counselor.  Her two daughters love returning to summer camp year after year.  She has experienced first hand the mix of emotions in sending a child to camp from watching their confidence grow as they take on new independence to missing the daily parent-child interactions.  When she finds time at camp, she writes on her blog, Summer Camp. In our high tech world, there are few places where a handwritten, or even typed letter, is so treasured as at summer camp. Following a few guidelines can turn a mundane recounting of your daily routine into a letter that your child may even prize as much as a package. Okay, any letter is unlikely to be elevated to package status, but at least you can create a memorable missive to your summer camper.
Supposedly students are taught to read and write cursive in grade three. Yet in most cases, opening a letter and discovering cursive is about as appealing as being served broccoli for breakfast and likely to be pushed aside just as quickly. For camp letter legibility stick with printing.

Be Colorful
We all like eye candy-- make your letter visually appealing. Use multiple colors of ink, decorate the margins, draw pictures occasionally in place of words. You may even feel like a kid again as you write.

Write Conversationally
You are chatting with your child not writing a memo to your manager. Use playful expressions, interrupt yourself, get off topic, meander.

Topics are Irrelevant
Unless you parachuted from an airplane and landed in a coconut tree on your commute to work, you don't need to recount your daily routine. Tell your child about the dog in the supermarket or how you had to retrieve your car keys from the garbage. You may want to know your child's schedule and every interaction, but he just wants to get a letter and know you are thinking of him. Laughing out loud while reading is a huge bonus, hearing about the traffic on the way to work, not so much.

Stay Positive
Especially if this is your child's first experience away from home, you want to stay upbeat. No need to mention how sad you are without her celebrating the fourth of July with you or how you are counting the days until she is home. It is fine to let her know you love her, but you don't want her worrying how you will manage without her at home.

Jokes, Riddles and Humor
If you are still stuck for what to write, find some jokes, riddles, puzzles or puns to include. Letters don't need to be long or newsy. They do need to arrive and let your camper know you are thinking of her.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Camp Testimonial - The Power Of Camp

Dear Camp Families,

I got this e-mail from a camp family over the weekend.  I wanted to share it with you as a testimonial as to what camp can do for campers both involving ponies and not.   Camp is very powerful and very important for children.  Hopefully this e-mail will serve as a reminder.  I read this at my Monday morning staff meeting and tried not to cry.  

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Dear Becky;
I wanted to write to you today to express my gratitude for the time my camper spent at Pony Farm; she talked about all her adventures, non-stop the entire 2hr+ drive home! In addition to having had a complete blast with camp and all the wonderful activities you have to offer, my camper is now trotting independently. We now have with us a completely different rider than we sent just one week ago. For the first time in a year, we were able to ride together in the indoor this morning at her request. She became my ‘instructor’ and led the warm ups, and then we played follow the leader and Simon Says. She then asked to go on a trail ride, without being ponied. She and Jazz did a fantastic job even trotting out in the open at her request. I can’t begin to explain what a transformation this is. I am sure this new confidence gained will carry over into other areas of her life as well. Please pass along my appreciation to each of her instructors as well as the rest of the staff for a transformation week we could have only hoped for.
A Camp Mom

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Session Two, We Welcome You!

Dear Camp Families,

It is so wonderful to have all your campers here!  We have returning campers, first time campers, and even second generation campers!  A wonderful mixture of girls! 

It has been a busy three days so far.  On Monday morning I met all your beautiful daughters.  In the morning the girls did their trial rides.  We want to make sure that we have the right camper, on the right mount, in the right lesson group! By Monday afternoon, we only had 3 out of 32 campers doing re-rides.  The rest were matches made in heaven.  I talked to every camper at lunch and they were all happy with their mounts, or there was a plan in place to achieve their happiness.

Monday afternoon we offered horsemanship to those campers who might have needed a little refresher course or a little extra help in learning how to tack up and/or lead their pony or horse.  We want to make sure we set our campers up for success, especially when they are here for 2 weeks.  Another afternoon activity option was slip and slide, which you can see pictures of on Facebook.  Their fourth afternoon activity option was obstacle courses with the minis.  Many campers gravitated towards this option probably because Boo was involved with it.

On Monday night, before dinner, a rain storm rolled through Temple NH.  Some of the campers took this opportunity to run around and wash their hair in the rain. 

We played Bag Skits on Monday night.  Each room is given about 15 minutes and a bag to put 5 items in the bag.  When the time is up, they are called out to the main room.  Then we switch all the bags around and re-give each room a bag.  (They don’t wind up with the bag they filled with their 5 items.)  Then the campers have a set amount of time to come up with a skit using all 5 items.  These skits are hysterical to see.  I love the creativity that goes into each skit.

It is hot here, but the girls are doing great with the heat.  Drinking plenty of fluids and not complaining at all about the heat.  The weather is supposed to break today.  We have a fun week planned ahead of us!  On Saturday is the horse show, come by if you can!



What the World Could Learn From Summer Camp

What the World Could Learn From Summer Camp

By Matthew Carroll
In the summer of 2008, I decided to work as a counselor at a
traditional American summer camp in upstate New York. This trip
to New York started out as a journey of procrastination and meditation,
but quickly turned into a journey of discovery. I'd finished
University only one week before and had no idea what my future
would hold; I thought that a couple of months working in a camp
would assist me in my pursuit of avoiding the real world. It
was exactly this mission that made me realize something — camp
was not the real world.
It first hit me on the first day of camp when everyone was dressed
the same — white T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, or flip flops.
Kids were dressed the same as counselors; counselors were dressed
the same as kitchen staff; and office staff were dressed the
same as the head counselors. You couldn't distinguish the
kids whose parents had saved up for months to send their kids
to camp from those who had spent the spare change of a week's
Everyone here was truly equal. While the campers and American
counselors recited the Pledge of Allegiance on the opening day,
the international staff looked on in silence. Different faiths
and different cultures were respected and tolerated. Coming from
Northern Ireland this was not only a novelty but something that
impressed me. People of all faiths were observing Jewish culture
with respect, while back home in Northern Ireland Christians
struggle to tolerate the cultures of other Christians.
Camp was about the basics. Mobile phones were banned; Internet
access was limited — even electric fans were banned (as
kids didn't have their own personal fans in the interest
of fairness, counselors couldn't either). A strong emphasis
was put on keeping camp tidy. If you saw litter on the ground,
you picked it up and put it in the bin. Kids were banned from
watching television except for special "movie nights." The
surprising thing was that the kids didn't seem to miss
it. Bringing down the veil of technology led to more open conversation
between friends, better networking, and unlikely friendships.
During rest periods, I was amazed to see the main campus was
absolutely heaving with games of stickball, basketball, tennis,
or catch. Older kids played with younger kids; brothers played
together; twenty-one-year-olds challenged eight-year-olds to
games of chess . . . and lost. Kids were able to play outside
in a safe environment the way they used to. Today, with so many
concerns about crime, it's very hard for parents to let
their kids go outside to play after breakfast and for them to
return after dinner. But, at camp kids are safe.
Everybody knows and trusts each other. At camp there are no
locks on the doors. Kids and counselors leave iPods®, PSPs,
books, and toys in their empty bunks all day and know those things
will still be there, exactly where they were left.
It is this sense of community that made me fall in love with
camp. At camp, you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together
in your division, otherwise known as your family for two months.
Camp meal times are a place for conversation, joking around,
dares, games, and occasionally songs. Campers and staff feel
completely relaxed, and there is no shame in doing embarrassing
things for other people's entertainment.
So what can the world learn from camp? In short, to let kids
be kids. We should be sending children to camp, allowing kids
to get the exercise and the fresh air that is so vital to growing
up. Camp allows children to spend time with their friends and
develop the social skills that are so vital, instead of sitting
inside in front of a television set. Adults can also learn that
work doesn't have to be work, it can also be fun. Camp
taught me that even though modern technology has opened up so
many opportunities for us it can also trap us.
Anyone who has worked at a camp will agree that you won't
understand camp without trying it. Without trying it I wouldn't
have learned as much as I have.
Matthew Carroll is twenty-three-years-old and is originally
from Coleraine, Northern Ireland. He is a graduate of Queen's
University Belfast with a degree in French and German. He has
previously worked and studied in France, Germany, and the USA.
He most recently worked as a division leader at Camp Scatico
in Elizaville, New York.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Camps encourage and inspire their campers to learn new skills and to explore new interests.

Camps encourage and inspire their campers to learn new skills and to explore new interests.

Aly Raisman Camp
Aly Raisman Camp
We are inspired by this camp yearbook clip of Aly Raisman who was encouraged at summer camp to think about the future and to dream big, and by this segment onAly’s first-ever gymnastics meet, which happened at summer camp.

Camps also help build skills and deepen interests campers already have. Being at summer camp provides children with opportunities to invent and re-invent themselves, to take safe physical and emotional risks, and to grow into their own potential.
  • By creating an intentional community and a sense of belonging.
  • By surrounding campers with counselors who are role models and excellent teachers.
  • By encouraging campers to bust out of their comfort zones—to have confidence in themselvesas they try (or try again) something that is new or difficult—sometimes both.
  • By offering experiences, adventures, and opportunities not available elsewhere.
  • By helping each camper grow as a contributing member of the group.
  • By taking children seriously and taking their dreams seriously, too.
Aly Raisman Beam
Aly Raisman Beam
A message to Aly from New England’s summer camp world: Congratulations! People all over the world are full of pride—but that’s an understatement here in New England!  Countless campers are inspired by what happened in London during these Olympic games and by what you’ve achieved personally. New England cannot wait to welcome you home this week!

ACA New England sends a big shout out to the thousands and thousands of counselors and camp staff who have encouraged their campers to dream big at camp this summer.  As the summer camp season of 2012 winds to a close and children prepare to transition back to the classroom, we acknowledge the uniquely major role that summer camp plays in children’s lives. Summer camp experiences complement and reinforce learning that happens at school and at home. Camps are partners in a most complex and amazing process—helping children to grow up. Summer camp experiences not only encourage dreaming big, camp is the perfect place to pursue those dreams!
(Top photo:, Bottom photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images Europe)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Boo Blog - The First of the Summer!

                                                                                                Thursday June 20th, 2013
Dearest Parents and Grandparents,
            Oh my, where does the week go???  I guess time truly does fly when you are having fun!!!  And…fun we have had. The weather has proved to be great especially yesterday and today.  What could be better than bright skies and sunshine with cool temps, no bugs and TERRIFIC kids!!!  I feel like the luckiest person in the whole world to be a camp director at Pony Farm with your kids and a super staff.  I love every minute of it.
            As Becky has told you, we have had a power packed week.  It is good you have raised gung ho kids as they have been ever ready to do the fun activities and riding.  We sure have hit the high spots…games galore at night, Pony Dress Up and Spa, Pair and Triple Jumping, Driving the miniature horses, field trips to see the Budweiser Clydesdales and the Wilton Falls, Catch Riding, Free Ride, Trail Rides…you name it, we have done it.  This is of course only the backdrop to the riding lessons each morning.  On Monday morning the Horse Match List arrived with Andi, our Equine Manager and Trainer, who was responsible for getting all the wonderful horses for camp.  She was organized and ready to roll to meet her new charges.  All but a couple of matches were right from the start.  By Monday afternoon, everyone was on an appropriate pony or horse that would both challenge them and give them a good ride so they could focus on their own position and finesse in the saddle.
            From Tuesday on, we have had each group of between 3 and 5 riders learning good, solid riding skills and a progression to make it successful. We have spent a lot of time in Orientation for both Counselors-in-Training and the Riding Instructors on teaching a group riding lesson and making each minute count.  We have also carefully selected the teaching staff to make sure that each instructor is well versed in the level of riding at which she is teaching. We have then paired this with a weekly riding meeting with our two year around teachers who are very experienced and riding lessons each week for all the teaching staff.  It is our sincere hope that you see good solid progress when you come to see your daughter ride on Saturday!!!
            I have just spent the morning organizing three of my favorite activities of all. They are the Pony Camping Trip for tonight, swimming with the horses tomorrow and our closing ceremony called Candlelight tomorrow night.  With packing lists galore for the girls, food and ponies, we will head off this afternoon to go on our weekly overnight.  I can’t wait to see them cooking over the fire, telling stories by moonlight and tip toeing off to bed under the canopy of tall trees. This year we will be camping on the land behind my house.  We are working on setting up a permanent camp site near the pond by my house. It should make it fun and easy to get there with the feeling of being out in the woods.  Staff, kids and I are all psyched for this adventure.

            We will also be having our wonderful camp photographers with us today.  They will spend the day with us and go through all the activities with the girls.  Each girl will also get a picture of her with her own pony or horse.  They will then put them all on a CD which will be available for purchase on Saturday.  We hope you will think this is a treat to see camp in action.
            Tomorrow is another highlight for all the girls. We will be taking half the group at a time to go to swim at a local pond.  We select four or five of the horses who really enjoy going in the pond and swimming around.
            Then, on Friday night we will all get dressed and shined up for Candlelight. This to me is one of my most favorite parts of camp. We gather around a fire or some candles, depending on the weather, and sing our favorite songs learned over the week together. The kids each bring something they have written about what they learned during the week.  These are so beautiful and moving.  Over the years, these musings from the kids have kept me going through thick and thin.  What they learn and how much they love it makes me think all the work of creating the farm over the last 42 years has truly been worth it.
            I hope Saturday will dawn bright and sunny so that we can greet you between 9:30 and 10AM. We are eager to chat with you about your treasure.  Then, we will all go to the riding rings so that we can watch them ride in demo lessons. I am so eager to hear if you thought she has made progress.  Do bring a picnic so we can all eat together.  We will also have some of our wonderful board members here to give you the larger vision of the farm.  Camp is not all that we do here at Touchstone Farm, home of Pony Farm.  I hope you will enjoy our brief Mission Moment!
            Until then, know that we are all happily going from one fun thing to the other.  Here’s to camping trips under the stars, healthy kids loving their ponies, staff doing their jobs and one little farm where the ‘world is as it should be’….
            As they say, “Wish you were here” to enjoy the fun with us.

                                                                                    Most warmly, Boo

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ice Cream Troughs and More...

Dear Camp Families,

It is hard to believe it is already Wednesday!  This week has been flying by for us!  Your campers have been amazing!  They are such a delight to have at camp!  We couldn't ask for a better way to start off our 42nd summer of camp!  The girls are doing well in their riding groups and they all like their ponies/horses!  The campers have been to Budweiser (to see the Clydesdale), pair jumping, driving, and more!

Tomorrow a camping trip is on the agenda and the photographers are coming to take pictures!  On Friday we plan to swim with the horses, pack and practice our specialties!  We also have Candle Light on Friday night!  I think you might have some tired campers on Saturday.  Tired, but happy ones!

Tonight we had the ice cream trough.  Personally I think it helps build a camper’s immunity.  Here’s what happens -  we have a clean “trough” and fill it with ice cream, whip cream, sprinkles, caramel, and chocolate sauce .  Then we have the camper’s line up at the Penrose Fence and throw spoons in the air.  Once the spoons hit the ground, the campers run, find a spoon and then run to the trough.  The objective is to eat as much ice cream as you can till it is gone.  Gross, I know!  But they love it!  This is what camp is for!

Also tonight we played Counselor Quest.  Here’s what happens -  the counselors hide on the farm.  They each have a certain point value and have tickets to give out those groups of campers that find them.  The counselors can’t hide in fields where there are animals or any buildings.  The campers are divided into 4 groups made up of all the different rooms!  The team who collects the most points wins.  The goats even helped out in the quest!

We are hoping Counselor Quest counter affects the ice cream trough when it comes time for bed!  Wish us luck! ;)


PS - We have been posting pictures on Facebook!  
They are both the Pony Farm Summer Camp Page, and the Touchstone Farm Page,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Session One - Day One

Dear Camp Moms and Dads,

Day one is over and done with.  I am sitting here at late night with your campers tucked into bed.  They are silent and sleeping and it has been a great day!  All the campers are on the right mounts and tomorrow morning we will make sure we have them all in the right riding groups.

This morning we did our trial rides.  This afternoon we had a few campers do re-rides, some campers hung out with the minis and small animals and led them through a course or 2, and another group did Natural Horsemanship activities (with a little bit of drill team on the side).

Tonight we played Bag Skits.  Bag Skits is when each room gets a bag and they put 5 items in the bag.  Then they come out and we exchange bags.  Each room gets a different bag than they started with.  Then each room gets a set amount of time to come up with a skit using all the items in the bag.  You have a creative bunch of girls!  It was really funny to watch! 

We have an amazing week planned!  The campers are all doing well and getting along beautifully!



The Impact of the Loss of Free, Undirected Play in Childhood (And What Camps Can Do About It)

The Impact of the Loss of Free, Undirected Play in Childhood (And What Camps Can Do About It)

By Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
As wonderful as the cherished traditions and programmatic aspects of a camp may be, what we teach campers may not be the most important part of their summer experience. The most crucial and unexpected moments of a summer may be when children are left alone to engage in free, undirected play. For many campers, the experience of playing outside “alone” or with a group of friends may be a truly new and joyful one. The loss of time for free, undirected play in everyday life is one of the saddest facts of modern childhood.
As a school consultant, I have watched the growing phenomenon of the over-scheduled child, particularly in affluent suburbs, and in independent and international schools. As a camp consultant, I have observed how many campers’ parents monitor them extremely closely; one might say microscopically. Indeed, Ron Taffel, a psychologist in New York, reports that much of modern parenting involves meticulous time management of a child’s packed schedule. This is a source of sadness for me, and for many people who care about children. Every thoughtful educator and parent has worried that there is something missing in the lives of today’s children.
Some conclude that what is missing is play or a work/play balance. More specifically, though, what is really missing is a certain kind of play that should exist in childhood: free, undirected play. We are doing great things for children in many ways, but we are not leaving them alone enough.
Researchers tell us that over the past two decades, children in the United States have lost nine to twelve hours of free play per week. Over the past decade, forty percent of elementary schools in the U.S. have eliminated recess, leaving children with less than a twenty-minute break (for lunch) in a six-hour school day. At school, we have replaced recess time with increased seat time as preparation for state tests; at home, parents have replaced free play time with organized sports, art, dance, and, of course, tutoring.
Free, undirected play used to be valued as a central, indeed, the defining activity of childhood, for good reason. Jaak Panskeep, play researcher at Washington State University, calls play the “signature mammalian behavior.” According to David Elkind it is a child’s “ . . . inborn disposition for learning, curiosity, imagination, and fantasy.” In 2007, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report declaring that, “It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact with the world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles.” Play makes children creative and strong; play reassures children that they are okay in the world.
What happened to play time? A lot of free time has simply disappeared because American children spend so much time at computer screens or in the car commuting to school and after-school activities. Many parents worry about their children’s safety if left alone to play in the neighborhood. Others feel their children must be constantly engaged in productive activity to succeed in a competitive, globalized economy.
But our children are paying the price for the loss of time for free play. We see it in obesity; high stress levels; rapidly increasing diagnosis of ADHD, depression, and emotional fragility; social incompetence; excessive dependence on adults, and the loss of a relationship with nature. While research indicating links between loss of free play time and obesity and high stress might be considered obvious, many researchers also have suggested that the increase in ADHD is a direct result of reduced play time. Some researchers believe that children may be missing a crucial modulator of nerve cell development (BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which is generated by vigorous exercise and learning.
We don’t need to wait for more research to confirm that the loss of free, undirected play is a significant problem in contemporary childhood. Parents, educators, camp counselors, and childcare workers need to protect the time they give children to play freely; they need to increase that time if possible. The most important and unexpected thing we can do for our children — at home or at camp — is to give them time for free play, time to confront their own “boredom,” learn how to entertain themselves with a friend, and organize a game with their peers.
In the end, you can’t teach children to play alone; you have to let them play alone. Many parents are too frightened to do so, and schools cannot find the time to do so. It may be that camp is the place where grown-ups can make nonscheduled time and free, undirected play a priority. I hope so. Our children’s imagination, spontaneity, leadership skills, and happiness depend on it.
Michael Thompson is a psychologist, author and camp consultant.  His most recent book is It's a Boy: Your Son's Development from Birth to

Sunday, June 16, 2013


School is out and summer camp is in!  We have been thinking a lot about the first day of camp, and we bet you have too.  We know the first day of camp can be incredibly exciting and at the same time, kind of scary if you don’t know what to expect.  That’s why we came up with a list of 10 things to remember on your first day of camp.  We encourage families to read this list together so that everyone can gain a better understanding of arrival day; campers can prepare for leaving home and parents can gain insight into what their children are feeling about this milestone! 

1. Getting ready for camp is part of the fun! 

Whether you’re packing up for 8 weeks at overnight camp or just getting your backpack ready for arrival day, getting ready for camp is part of the fun!  If you’re off to sleepaway camp, break out those checklists and get cracking.  Find the humor in labeling every piece of your clothing, make a game out of the drugstore run and see just how fast you can grab all the essentials (bugspray, sunblock, toothbrush, water bottle, paper and envelopes, GO!), challenge yourself to fit everything into just one bag.  Look for  some silly pictures of your loved ones to bring.  Make packing enjoyable!  Don’t forget to give your friends your address so they can send you mail and, if you’re really lucky, care packages.  Ask your family if you can all dig into your favorite meal for your last dinner at home.  Enjoy the excitement of building up to the first day of camp.  If you’re getting ready for day camp, decide on which tasty lunch to pack, grab your favorite swim towel, pick out your most comfortable shorts and t-shirt.  Get that backpack ready!  No matter what kind of camp you’ll be attending, remember to take some time in the days leading up to camp to think about how fun your summer is going to be.  Make a countdown calendar and imagine all of the new friends you will make and the new activities you will get to try.  The excitement of the first day of camp can begin long before arrival day! 

2. Everyone is at least a little bit anxious.

You probably feel like the only one who spent all night last night feeling like you couldn’t get those butterflies in your stomach under control, but rest assured that everyone is feeling at least a little bit anxious.  Maybe, for instance, you’re nervous that you won’t make any friends.  But guess what?  That returning camper over there?  He’s nervous that his old friends may have changed.  That girl standing with that big group of kids?  She’s worried that she might get homesick.  All those staff members who seem to be so comfortable and having a great time, confidently greeting busloads of campers?  Just a week or two ago they were in your shoes, leaving home to travel to a new state or a new country, meeting new people, and worrying about fitting in with their fellow counselors.  Just a week or two ago they felt as anxious as you do right now.  Feeling nervous is a normal part of any new and exciting experience.  But look at those camp counselors.  Keep reminding yourself that, just like them, you’ll soon be relaxed and ready to enjoy the summer.  And maybe, if you’re feeling brave enough, walk up to that kid sitting alone at the picnic table and say hello.  Helping someone else is always a great way to forget about your own worries.  Chances are he’s feeling a little more anxious than you, and you could be the one to get his summer off to the right start… and maybe you’ll make a new friend!

3. Figure out what makes you most comfortable on your first day and do that. 

As stated in number two, you will become more at ease over time, but you can do things to speed up the process.  Figure out what makes you most comfortable on your first day and do that.  Do you know you’d prefer a top bunk?  If possible, try to arrive early so you can pick out the perfect bunk for the summer.  Do you like to be surrounded by things from home?  Pack a few of your favorite items and display them on your cubby.  Are you more relaxed when your family helps you get settled in?  Ask them if they can stay a while and help you unpack or take a walk around camp with you.  Does it make it harder for you to have your parents lingering?  Ask them if they can make their goodbyes short but sweet so that you can jump right into activities and meeting new people.  Take some time to really think about what it is you need to feel comfortable on your first day and talk to your parents and your counselors to figure out how to make that happen.  These grown-ups just want you to be happy and safe, so if you can express your feelings to them, they will do what they can to help you settle in. 

4. Camp staff are trained to make sure you have a great summer.  Trust them to help you adjust! 

Most campers don’t think about this part, but the staff at your camp have been trained to make sure you have a great summer.  They know just how to help you transition from home to camp.  Trust them to help you adjust to camp life!  Camp counselors and head staff have spent weeks learning how to be great ropes instructors, cautious lifeguards, talented guitar teachers, knowledgeable wilderness leaders, and have mastered the skills they will be teaching you over the summer.  But they have also been trained to be fantastic role models, energetic leaders, and to keep you safe and happy at camp.  Counselors are awesome, and when you arrive on the first day of camp they will greet you with giant smiles, shouting out your name and announcing your arrival with excitement.  They are so glad you’re there and they want you to have the best time ever!  When they suggest you meet some of the other kids in your cabin or that you try that getting-to-know-you game, take their advice.  They know their stuff!  Your counselors are there to make sure you adjust to camp life, so if you have questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to ask them. 

5. Camps have great first day traditions. 

Your first day at camp has been thoughtfully planned out by your camp directors and camp staff.  In some cases, they have been planning for weeks and months, but in many cases, their plans have been in the works for years!  Camps have great first day traditions that have been going on for decades – sometimes even a century – and now you get to be a part of them.  Maybe the first camp meal has been sloppy joes for 25 years.  Perhaps everyone gathers for an all-camp meeting.  Maybe the staff put on a show or you get a big ol’ camp tour.  There might be getting-to-know-you games on the soccer field or sing-a-longs around a campfire.  Whatever the tradition, it is part of what makes your camp unique.  Make a strong memory of these moments, because these are the things that make you part of the camp family.  Yes, that’s right, starting from the moment you arrive and start taking part in these traditions, no matter how small or silly they may seem, you are part of your camp’s family. 

6. Create your own first day traditions. 

Maybe you’ll only go to camp for one summer, or perhaps you’ll return for years to come, and while your camp likely has some awesome first day traditions, don’t forget to create your own traditions.  Creating your own traditions is part of what makes certain events in life even more special.  Take the scenic route to camp and stop at some goofy landmarks along the way.  Each year you’ll know just how close to camp you are with every passing landmark.  Find a great restaurant that serves one of your favorite meals and stop there for lunch before you get to camp.  Each time you eat that meal you’ll be reminded of the excitement of the first day of camp.  Listen to the same music on the bus ride.  Each time you hear those songs you’ll remember meeting new friends on the drive to camp.  Coming up with your own traditions on the first day of camp will make it a unique day.  If you return to camp year after year, these traditions will get you excited that camp has come around again, and if you move on to other things in the summers to come, these little moments will always remind you of the summer you were lucky enough to spend at camp. 

7. It’s okay to be homesick, but try to stay involved. 

It might help you to know that missing home is pretty common.  Even your counselors might miss home from time to time.  It’s okay to be homesick, but try as hard as you can to stay involved in the things that are happening on the first day of camp and in the days to come.  There are so many cool activities happening around you, and it would be a shame to miss out on them.  Your home is awesome and you might miss your family and your dog and your neighborhood and your friends, but don’t worry!  When you get back home, they’ll all be there, just as you left them.  And guess what?  Theywant you to have fun!  Your family misses you, but they want you to have an amazing summer.  In fact, they’re probably a little bit jealous that you get to experience all these exciting activities and meet so many great people and they’re stuck at home (shh, don’t tell them we said that!).  So don’t think for a second that you’re weird for missing home, but try not to let it stop you from taking part in all the fun going on around you.  If you stay involved, you’ll probably wake up in a day or two and forget to be homesick because you’re way too busy enjoying yourself at camp.

8. Eventually these strangers won’t be strangers anymore. 

I know it’s hard to believe when you’re looking at a sea of faces that you don’t recognize, but eventually these strangers won’t be strangers anymore.  By the end of the first day you might only remember a few of their names, but by the second day you’ll know the kids in your unit, by the third day you’ll know the kids in most of your activities, and before you know it, most of these people will not only be acquaintances but some will be great friends.  I bet if you ask a returning camper or counselor where they met their best friend, many of them would say “at camp!”  You know all of your friends at home?  All of your classmates from school?  I bet you don’t even remember when they were just strangers to you.  In a matter of days that’s exactly how you’ll feel about all these campers and counselors, so don’t fear all these new people!  One day soon they’ll be old friends. 

9. Eventually you’ll know this camp and its language and traditions like the back of your hand.  It will be like your second home. 

It’s totally normal to get a little bit lost on your first day and during the first week of camp.  Sometimes even returning campers can’t remember how to get to the waterfront or where the pottery class is held.  It’s also totally normal to wonder how on Earth you’ll remember all these camp songs or understand the inside jokes or camp slang.  But just like all the strangers will become familiar faces, so will this camp become like a second home.  In a few weeks, when camp is over, you’ll wake up in the morning and it will seem weird to you that you don’t have to walk to the lodge for breakfast or that people aren’t singing songs during lunch.  You’ll wonder why friends at home don’t understand your hilarious camp jokes.  You’ll miss using made up words and calling people by crazy nicknames.  All these things that seem so foreign to you on your first day will become the things you love and remember most about camp.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Be excited to learn all about them!  They are what will make this place your second home. 

10. By the end of the summer you’ll likely be counting down the days until the NEXT first day of camp, so enjoy it!

It may be difficult to imagine now, but in the blink of an eye your time at camp will be over.  You will have grown into an even better version of yourself by trying tons of new activities, meeting people from all walks of life, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone by getting up on stage and doing that goofy dance with your cabin group.  You will have fallen in love with this place and these people and it will be time to hug them goodbye and head back home.  By the end of the summer you’ll be counting down the days until the NEXT first day of camp.  Whether this is your last summer at camp or the first in a line of many, remember to enjoy the first day of camp for all of its awkwardness and excitement, because THIS first day of camp will only happen once. 
So go on, have a magical summer!  Swim in the lake, run around in the woods, climb the rock wall, take drum lessons, find yourself an awesome counselor to learn from, and meet your new best friends.  Enjoy it all, and don’t worry too much about that first day.  It is significant, but it is only the beginning of the best summer of your life. 
This article was written with real-life advice from campers, parents, and camp professionals.  Thank you to the following people for their input:
Tulio Browning – Camp Timberlake (Vermont)
The Davis Family (Massachusetts)
Ronni Guttin – Camp JORI 
(Rhode Island)
Jake & Kerry Labovitz – Windsor Mountain Summer Camp 
(New Hampshire)
The Moriarty Family 
Nat Saltonstall – Beaver Summer Programs 
John Tilley – Camp Coniston 
(New Hampshire)
The Toscano Family – Camp Runoia 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

You're Not Alone — Even the President Gets "Kidsick"!

If you’re feeling the blues while your child is away at camp — or anticipating the day they leave for camp with a little sadness — you’re not alone. In fact, even President Obama feels this way about sending his daughters to camp!
Both First Daughters, Malia and Sasha, will be at overnight camp for a month this summer — adding President and Mrs. Obama to the millions of American parents who annually choose a summer camp experience for their children — even if it means being a little “kidsick” while the kids are away from home.
As Malia enjoys her second summer at camp, and Sasha becomes a new camper, the President recently admitted to feeling a little “depressed” while his girls are away. Camp professionals and child psychologists have described parents’ feelings when children leave as “kidsickness” — akin to the normal feelings of “homesickness” that a majority of children feel when leaving home. (Read more about coping with “kidsickness.”)
ACA offers parents strategies for coping with these emotions at — where they will also learn that overcoming separation anxiety is a healthy part of youth development and just one of the many benefits children gain with a summer camp experience.
“The Obamas’ decision to send Malia to camp again, and to send Sasha to camp for the first time, sends a very positive message to parents,” says American Camp Association CEO Peg Smith. “Camp is a safe and supportive environment where children can develop authentic relationships, unplug from technology, connect with nature, and participate in human-powered activities. Camp allows children to relax and enjoy just being kids. There is a camp experience for every child, whether they live in the White House or anywhere in America. More than 10 million children will attend camp this summer, and the ACA community of more than 9,000 members hopes that all parents will be inspired to learn more about camp and give their children the gift of camp.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Messages for an Anxious Camper

July 12, 2012
Guest post by Audrey Monke
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
Michael Thompson, PhD, Homesick and Happy
Recently I spoke with a mom whose eleven-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list — so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.
Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and just yesterday had a CIT (Counselor in Training) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.
This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety. Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.
Without further ado, here are some messages to give to your anxious camper:
  • Let them know that missing home is okay. 
    You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.

  • Reassure them that there are people at camp who will take care of their needs. 
    There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.

  • Talk with your child honestly about the importance of starting to develop some independence. In Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson writes, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life . . . If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
    Something along the lines of: It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me, so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college, because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.

  • Share the reality that many good things in life come with some pain and failure. If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share.
    Something along the lines of: Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!

  • Make sure they know you want to hear about everything.
    Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a knee board? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.

  • Let them know that you are confident in them.
    I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this. (If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.)

  • If your camper asks you if you will pick him up if he’s sad, you need to let him know that you are not going to pick him up early.
    Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.
I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages, but instead, choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child. What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience. These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.
I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings. Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer. Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp. If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.
Adapted from Audrey’s original blog post at Sunshine Parenting.
Audrey Monke and her husband Steve have owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp (Lakeshore, California) for the past twenty-three years. They are raising their own five campers (ages 8–18) at home. Audrey writes about camp and parenting at

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gearing Up for Summer: What to Pack

Before summer starts, make sure your camper is geared up — literally! — for all the fun activities at camp. Here are some tips when it comes to packing:
  • Pack Light — Remember your camper will be living out of a duffel bag, trunk, or suitcase for the duration. Packing light helps campers keep track of items and guarantees that they can handle their own luggage at camp.
  • Check Camp Packing Lists — Individual camps should provide a recommended camp packing list, complete with any required equipment, preferred footwear, etc. Be sure to carefully review what is needed, paying special attention to those items that may not be permitted at camp.
  • Label, Label, Label — Laundry pens, iron-on labels, and press and stick labels will distinguish your camper’s belongings from those of other cabin or tent mates. Most camps ask that you label each item, including clothing, personal items, and toiletries. Make sure that your child can identify the label used.
  • Wear Those Shoes! — Make sure that your child’s clothing and footwear are comfortable and appropriate. Sending a camper in brand-new hiking boots can result in sore feet and time spent sitting out of exciting activities.
  • Plan Together — Decisions about camp, like what to pack, should be made together. The more ownership your camper has in these decisions, the easier the adjustment and transition to camp will be.
Families should contact their camp director for specific questions and packing suggestions. ACA’s Web site for families,, offers a head-to-toe packing list.
Photo courtesy of Victory Junction, Randleman, North Carolina

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

It’s Worth Letting Children Go….To Camp!

It’s Worth Letting Children Go….To Camp!

“I could never send her away!” “(S)he’d never make it that long without me.”  “He’s ready, but I’m not.” 
Three simple statements overheard at a recent camp fair as parents perused their overnight camp options in a room full of camp displays and camp representatives.
Three worries that can prevent a child from getting to go to overnight camp.
 Separation is not easy emotionally—not when we leave young children for the first time with a relative, a neighbor, a babysitter, or even a friend.  And it’s not easy when we separate from children so they can thrive first in early childhood settings and next in elementary, middle and high school. Even though parents and teens have been preparing for years when time for college comes around, that separation is significant too.  And, we know that children—campers—who have had experience living away from home at overnight camp as younger children, who have already experienced separation successfully, are able to jump into the other aspects of adjusting to the whole new world of college.  Day and overnight summer camp experiences offer life lessons that build the kind of independence, resilience, and confidence that help college students succeed. 
Camp professionals carve out quite a lot of time to speak with prospective camper families at this time of the year: on the phone, at camp fairs and open houses, at camp reunions and home visits. You’ll find them available and ready to Skype, text or email if talking in person or on the phone is not an option. It’s a big decision to enroll a child in camp! You’ll find a lot of help to explore the fit between what a camp offers and what you and your prospective camper need and hope to find in a summer camp community. Here are a few ways to reframe statements like these overheard time and time again during the camp search season.
“I could never send her away!” You’re not sending the child away! The child gets to go!  Children’s camps are unique worlds designed for optimal child development. Child-centered learning and fun awaits. The entire experience pivots on what children need, what makes children thrive.  Summer camp experiences compliment and reinforce the learning that takes place at home and at school during the year. In addition to the support parents and families get from the camps they choose, there’s a lot of other support out there for the difficulty adults have in letting children go away to camp. And children who have had a part in helping make the big decision about which camp they attend have some skin in the game; they are not being sent away. Remember that children enter camp worlds where their parents and guardians only visit. Overnight campers leave adults and younger children in the family at home missing the child who is away! The adjustments are different for everyone. There’s a lot to explore about this topic. A book by school, parent and camp consultant, Michael G. Thompson, PhD, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow is an excellent place to begin.
“(S)he’d never make it that long without me.”  Well, our children do need us! That’s established.  We welcome the most helpless mammals into the world. And they are dependent far longer than the young of other mammals; no question. But on that path from complete dependence to comprehensive independence, summer camp experiences play a significant, if not life-changing, role. Summer camps have contributed mightily to helping families raise children over the last century and a half. What summer camps offer to support optimal child development really cannot be found elsewhere.  The truth is that with the support of a summer camp community your son or daughter can make it for a time without you. How long a time is the question; the answer may surprise you! Session length is a critically important variable in the summer camp search. We encourage you to seek advice from camp professionals about session length.  The adults at camp won’t replace you. No one can. But, they’ll inspire and encourage growth and change that you cannot. And they’ll do it in partnership with you. Belonging to a summer camp community is a powerful, powerful experience.  Children cannot have that experience if parents don’t let them go.  This recent article, Summer Camp And The Process of Letting Go, by Deborah L. Jacobs, a senior editor at Forbes, articulates beautifully one parent’s perspective on letting her son thrive at a New England camp that’s not right around the corner from her home in New York City.
“He’s ready, but I’m not.” This is completely normal. In fact it happens all the time. Most of the time, children are ready to go to overnight camp before the adults in their lives are ready to let them go. The most important thing is to talk about it. Discuss a child’s readiness—with the child! And take some action to allow your child to experience safe independence—before it’s time for college!  This, like all progressions, begins with baby steps. Success with a few hours away quickly becomes a half-day away—and then a day, or several. One or two successful nights away from home, either with a relative or family friends, or on a youth group adventure can really set up a child for overnight camp success. Some month long camps say that all their youngest campers need to have accomplished is a successful night or two away from home.  Day camps sometimes offer an overnight experience to their campers—which is great fun for a camp community used to parting company at the end of the afternoon and a truly wonderful way to experience being away from home overnight for the first time with a group of friends and trusted adults. Campers receive all kinds of support for this important developmental milestone of sleeping away from home overnight. Sometimes parents and guardians feel support and sometimes they don’t. Here’s a great resource that makes taking this step much easier for the whole family, a key resource by Chris Thurber, school psychologist, parent, camp professional and consultant: Summer Camp Handbook, the award winning guide to summer camp for parents and kids…online and free.
As you’re sure to hear from parents who have let their children go to overnight camp, from the camp professionals who specialize in helping first-time overnight campers and families adjust to camp, and from teachers who welcome campers back to the classroom, by the end of camp, children have benefited enormously.  Of course what the benefits of camp look like varies from child to child—and is worthy of its own blog post.  Whatever the growth, it’s really exciting to witness as a camper returns home walking a little taller in their shoes, willing to take new risks, excited to share new skills and competencies, ready for the next challenge.  It’s worth letting children go….and benefit from the extraordinary world of summer camp.