How to Prepare Your Child for Overnight Camp
15 Ways to Cope with “Camp-sickness”
Now that it’s autumn and campers are trying to find rhythm of the new school year and trying to get used to non-camp life, sometimes there can be a struggle missing the good times you had over the summer. Here are 15 ways to cope with camp-sickness!
(1) Write to your camp friends.
(2) Teach your friends/family camp songs.
(3) Tie-dye EVERYTHING you own.
(4) Stalk the Kupugani facebook/instagram pages.
(5) Do the Kupugani Beat after every meal.
(6) Wear some Kupugani swag.
(7) Sing the announcement song every time someone says “announcement”.
(8) Make some s’mores!
(9) Sing the song of the summer (“I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys)
(10) Start a countdown to next summer!
(11) Skype your camp besties.
(12) Make a friendship bracelet.
(13) Sing the “Goodnight Song” with your family before you go bed.
(14) Reverse tie-dye everything you can’t tie-dye.
(15) Sign up for Kupugani 2019!
Hope this makes you feel better!
How to Tie-Dye Like a Legend at Summer Camp!
With summer rapidly approaching, it is past time to get serious about preparing for camp. So today, we discuss the importance of creating the perfect tie-dye!
There are folks who are certified tie-dye masters. (The author has been considered as such…) Such masters are often asked at which store they purchased their seemingly-professionally made garb, and respond “well… I made it!”
So here are some CTDM (certified tie-dye master) tips for tie-dying.
Step one: Buy as high-cost dye as you can afford. It may seem like an extravagance, but the colors will turn out so much brighter!
Step two: Mix that stuff into the water like it is your job!
Step three: Get “soda ash” and pre-soak the shirts for about 10 minutes.
Step four: Ring the shirts out, so they are pretty close to dry.
Now to the fun part. The tying and the dyeing! At camp, we are believers in sticking to the directions when it comes to the patterns (although your own creativity can work wonders too). It’s hard to beat the classic favorite of the spiral.
To get a spiral tighter than a Drew Bress touchdown pass, get your rubber bands ready and strap in for the time of your life. Then…
(1) Take the shirt and “fan fold” the shirt starting at the bottom.
(2) Next, take that fan fold and spin it into a spiral. Take the rubber bands and wrap them around the whole thing. (Pro tip: the rubber bands need to be tight–but not too tight–to make sure the color goes where you want it).
(3) Now you are ready for the dye part. Pick out your colors…the more, the merrier. Splitting the shirt into 5 sections, start to spray the colors heavily in those sections. (Pro tip #2: be sure to skip sections each time when putting down a new color…this will make sure the colors don’t mingle making it just plain brown.) Make sure you cover the whole shirt in colors.
(4) Once the coloring is done, let them sit.
(5) Hang them up to let any excess dye drip off.
(6) Wash them out (Pro tip #3: NEVER commingle your sweet tie-dye garb with other laundry; the color(s) will come out and stain anything else).
(7) Once they have been washed, dry them and boom, you have the coolest new wardrobe item ever! You are well on your way to CTDM status of your own!
Tips to Prepare First Time Overnight Campers
Okay, so you have made the excellent decision to give your child the gift of an overnight summer camp experience, and he/she has never been to sleepaway camp. Yikes, what now? No need to panic, everything is going to be fine. In fact, everything is going to be great. Throughout this process, always keep in mind that sending your child to summer camp is one of the best things that you can do as a parent to help you raise an emotional healthy, well-adjusted, and self-sufficient human being. Just take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee and read these tips for first-time camp families.
1. Try a Sleepover
Some first-timers have never slept away from the safety and security of the home quarters (at least not without mom and/or dad in tow). Send junior to stay with aunt Ginnie for a night – not at Grandma’s where he makes weekly visits. It might be a little uncomfortable, but it is good practice for getting used to the feeling of the un- (or at least less) familiar and for gaining confidence in sleeping away from Mom and Dad. And don’t pick them up if they call you in the middle of the night!
2. Go Shopping!
Yes, kids love spending your money, so go ahead and take them to the store to pick out a new tube of toothpaste for camp or a sweet new hand-held water misting fan (which will help them make lots of friends on hot days). You don’t need to spend a lot to enjoy the benefit of the shopping trip. Having tangible symbols of their adventures to come will allow them to better visualize little snippets of their daily existence at camp. Also, have them pick out a few items for a care package that you can send before camp so that it is there upon your arrival. (Make sure you know your camp’s package policy – e.g., don’t send a box full of candy to a camp that does not permit food-related packages or Peanut M&Ms to a nut-free camp).
3. Make a Checklist
Focus on the positive by brainstorming with your camper a list of four or five specific goals for the summer (for example, chip away at fear of heights by going down the zip line, learn to sail or make at least one friend from another country). Have your camper take this list to camp and send to you a letter during the summer updating you on any progress. When you write to your camper, ask about these specific goals.
4. Care for the Hair
Have your child get a haircut during the week before camp and get them checked for lice. Most camps have lice checks on opening day, and nothing says massive bummer like spending your first day of camp in the infirmary getting “treated” while everyone else is playing four-square. Also, while many camps will resolve the issue right then and there (as opposed to sending your child home), the cost typically will be greater to you than if you have it resolved at home before camp.
5. Manage Expectations
Many parents respond to their children’s fear of camp by telling them that they are going to love it and that there is nothing to worry about. This likely is true, and it is great to remain positive. AND you also need to let them know that the first few days might be a little tough until they get used to the rhythms of camp. They need to know from you that this is perfectly normal and okay to feel this way. Have a conversation about their fears and concerns and brainstorm strategies to deal with them. Otherwise, if they expect nothing but calm seas, the first ripple will have them looking for the lifeboat.
6. Go to Tahiti
Okay, maybe a trip to the South Pacific won’t work, but use the time that your kids are at camp for some good self-care. You have spent years changing diapers, making grilled cheese sandwiches and helping with math homework. You deserve some “me” time. I’m going to say that again – You Deserve Some Me Time. This doesn’t make you a bad parent – it makes you human, and camp allows the perfect opportunity for some good parent recharge time. Have fun when your kids are at camp, and embrace the quiet. Enjoy a dinner out without having to worry about getting a babysitter. Reconnect with your college buddies or girlfriends. Play a round of golf (remember when you used to play golf?). Don’t worry, it will be over before you know it, so take some time for yourself before the routine of school and kid’s activities set in again.
7. “All Quiet on the Homefront”
Campers LOVE to receive mail from home, so send some. However, make sure to avoid the following:
(1) bad news (“so about your pet goldfish…”),
(2) amazing news that makes home seem more awesome than camp (“We got a new puppy. Oh, and a pool. Oh, and Dad and I are at Disneyland eating candy”), and
(3) sentiments that make your child feel guilty for having fun at camp (“The house is so lonely and quiet without you … I am so sad you are not here with me. I cannot wait for you to come home”).
Instead, when writing letters ask lots of specific questions, make home seem neither terrible nor particularly interesting, and tell them how excited you are that they are having this experience. Remember, camp is about your child. It may be an adjustment for you to be away from Junior. That is normal. But consider whether sharing these feelings with him is for your benefit or his.
8. Come Clean
No, I’m not talking about laundry here. Parents and Camp Directors are partners in the success of your child’s summer, so there needs to be an open and honest line of communication. If your child has a particular challenge that might impact his/her experience at camp, it is best addressed before camp starts. We eventually will learn that your child [occasionally wets the bed] [is struggling with a recent divorce] [takes medication for ADHD during the school year], and if we know this information in advance, we can strategize together and plan for it (for example, placing a bell on the door of a cabin for a camper who sleepwalks). No need to worry that this information will stigmatize your child. You should be able to trust that your camp director knows how to keep sensitive information either entirely or selectively confidential. If that level of trust is not there, perhaps you should rethink your choice of camp.
9. …And I’ll Tell You No Lies
This is a big one. Under absolutely no circumstances should you promise to pick up your child from camp early if they are having a “bad” time. Making this promise almost will ensure that a struggling camper will make no effort to turn things around. Your child is human, and the path of least resistance (leaving) is oh-so-much more tempting than putting in the mental energy it takes to stick it out and try to have fun. If you feel that you have to make some sort of promise, make it a reward related to finishing camp (“We’re going to the beach for the weekend when you return home from camp – but not a moment before”). Another good one is to promise that in the unlikely event that they have a miserable experience, they will never have to go back again.
(Every parent to whom I provide this piece of advice always responds with, “of course, I would never do such a thing.” However, they aren’t thinking about the night before camp starts and junior is crying on his bed and the only thing that will soothe his nerves is to make unhealthy, but seemingly reasonable, promises. Watch out for making deals under duress! Even if a camper struggles to overcome homesickness, they gain resiliency, confidence and a sense of accomplishment (“hey, that was tough but I did it!” when they return home successfully finishing the session.)
10. Avoid the Long, Tearful Goodbye
Often times, children leaving home and going to camp can be more difficult for parents than children. Drop-off day is an exciting, emotional and seemingly hectic experience that might leave you feeling anxious and sad. These feelings are completely normal, and you should allow yourself to feel however you feel – ONCE YOU GET IN THE CAR. The tearful goodbye might feel like love to you but to your child, it might create feelings of sadness and guilt that they are leaving you “alone.” Camp, like many other things that we do for our kids, is not always easy on us parents. But pull yourself together, keep a stiff upper lip, and then feel free to blubber on once you get back in the auto.
Perhaps the most important thing for you to remember as the parent of camper is that the summer camp experience is a tremendous growth opportunity for your child. This does not mean that there won’t be occasional struggles and difficulties along the way. It is like other experiences in life – we often learn more about ourselves from difficult times than blissful moments. Your children are stronger than they know, and with your support, guidance and partnership with the summer camp director, your child has the chance to grow in ways you haven’t even imagined. Happy camping!
How to Enjoy (Objectively) Deciding About Camp
Often at this time of year, families thoughts turn to summer planning. As director of our camp near Chicago, I’ll often get questions from families trying to figure out whether their child is ready for a camp experience. Sometimes the question is disguised as a comment that their child can’t possibly be ready, but that comment often belies the parent’s own misgivings. We’ve designed a couple of fun, insightful tools to help provide answers for questioning families.
Have fun and let us know what you think!
Should Siblings Attend Camp Together?
At our children’s summer camp outside of Chicago, we have sessions for girls-only, boys-only, and a blended session (with intentional opportunities for them to interact). So there are options when considering what the best option for a single child. When there are more than one child in a family, you should also consider whether it’s better for them to attend camp together, or to be able to have their own individual camp experience.
Here are some useful factors to analyze:
Single Sex or Not
Consider whether the individual child would benefit specifically from a blended experience or if a single-sex atmosphere would give the child more freedom to just be themselves free of that particular pressure. (More on the benefits of single-sex camps at this link).
Owning an Individual Camp Experience
Consider whether one or more of your children should “own” their own camp experience, free of the other sibling.
Consider whether you think it’s beneficial for your children to be away from the other sibling(s) for 4 weeks (given the sequential dates of the camps).
Potential for a Child-Free Household
Consider whether it’s beneficial for the adults in your family to be completely child-free for two-weeks, or have one-child at a time for four weeks.
Family Summer Schedule
Consider how the specific dates impact your family’s summer planning (since that may make other considerations moot).
Resist the Urge to Pick Up a Child Early from Camp
As a camp owner, I often see parents struggle with the idea of sending their children to camp. They can’t pinpoint exactly why they’re worried (and often conflate their own fears by saying/thinking that their child is the one who’s not ready); in truth, the very notion of their child navigating an unfamiliar environment (even a loving and supportive one) without their help makes them deeply uncomfortable.
Indeed, if you ask a sample of parents what their biggest parental challenges are, most of the responses amount to “not doing the right thing”, “not being a good parent”, and “letting my child go, as they grow”. All of these general responses are directly linked with the decision to send your child to camp, coping with your child gone while at camp, and your child’s return.
Some parents are concerned that sending their child to camp is seen as “shipping them off” to just get them out of the house; in reality, by “shipping them off” you are facilitating one of the most important journeys of their youth.
So, you finally get to the point where you can do right by your child and help them embark on their great transitional journey. You help them get along on their test run of fostering independence (prior to one day when they will leave the nest for good).
But then, one day, you receive a homesick letter. A letter that asks you to “please, please, PLEASE pick me up!!” An overwhelming urge may be to jet off on your magic carpet, whisk yourself away to camp to retrieve your baby and enfold your child back into the safety of your warm embrace.
Here’s where I ask you to pause and resist that urge. Think back to the first time you left home for an extended period of time—perhaps it was a portion of a youth trip or college experience where you felt lost, scared, or alone in a new environment. What was your initial response? Did you think, “I want to go home”; did you call home and ask to be picked up? You very well may have done so. Indeed, as children and adults, a natural urge can be to retreat back to the most pristine womb-like level of comfort, where everything is warm and pleasant and all your needs are seemingly met. A rare percentage of people reacts in a way that says, “new environment, BRING IT ON!” We might want to be those type of people; it’s certainly hard and often aspirational.
I get that it’s hard when your baby is far away and asking, seemingly begging even, to come home to you. Remember though, that it’s not just his self-confidence and independence hanging in the balance, he is also setting into motion actions that will affect his future reactions to difficult periods in his life.
I am going to bring this blog to a bit of a halt right now, break down the third wall, and turn this into an engaging activity… I am a camp director, what kind of lesson would this be if there wasn’t a bit of self-reflection and work involved… Please grab a piece of paper and a pen. I want you consider your initial, disconcerting away-from-home experience, where you thought, “why am I here, what am I doing, I want to go home.” Describe that experience in as much detail as you recall. (If you haven’t had this experience, maybe you don’t need to read this and can instead shoot us an email and join a list of references for parents who struggle with childsickness, i.e. missing their children when the children are away.)
Now that you’ve written about that experience, think about the outcome; did you go home or persevere? Now go back and highlight or circle the important aspects of your experience. Would you have changed the outcome or the process? Write down in what way.
Hopefully, your own words and experience can help allay your fears. If not, as an experienced camp director, I can assure you that your child is well and would be extremely well-served by their remaining at camp in almost any situation. I am 100% committed to your child’s development, just as many other camp directors, and I would never B.S. any parent, or do anything to jeopardize their child’s well-being. If you don’t trust/believe that is the case, then you certainly should come get them ASAP, and perhaps shouldn’t have sent them to camp initially.
I appreciate that you’ve received communications that you think mean that your child needs help. Yes, those are homesick letters. Yes, it’s hard for a parent to receive those letters. I certainly get that—since our job as parents is to watch out for our children’s self-interest. But you certainly don’t want to set a precedent in your child’s life that he or she needs rescuing, especially in a circumstance where they do not. And yes, some part of you thinks that you would be breaching a trust or betraying your child by not coming to his aid when he has so emotionally has cried out (during limited, self-contained moments, almost a week ago when your letter was likely first-written). However, please consider that camp staff members are trained in how to help homesick children. 95% of kids have some element of homesickness; our job is to help them navigate that. A parent coming into the equation ruins even the best of efforts by counselors to help the child.
I appreciate that, of all the minefields that make up parenting, contemplating when to “rescue” your child can be a challenging one. And, of course, there might be times when pulling your child out of an uncomfortable situation is needed and should be done. However, none of those factors are present here: (1) Your child’s homesick challenges were then; now, they are loving camp; (2) Even if they were continuing to struggle, you would want to consider the benefits of letting your child ride out the discomfort of a healthy, socially appropriate, yet challenging set of circumstances (as they did when they actually overcame homesick challenges that were present when they wrote the letter).
As with many intentionally challenging experiences at camp (physical—like dam jumping, rock climbing, crate stacking at our camp; emotional—figuring out how to be strong when things get tough; social—like conflict resolution, navigating how to get along with diverse people and personalities), overcoming homesickness is a difficult experience that campers get through and experience that rush that comes with achieving a goal. That rush is huge. That rush is what we get to see at camp when a camper does something for the first time that they didn’t think they could do. By facilitating these experiences as camp folks (and parents) we help create kids who work hard, get through some uncomfortable moments, and then achieve a goal. This is how we help them become adults who can do the same thing. So when your child, later on in life, is dealing with final exams, or pulling all-nighters in med school, or managing the stress of balancing small children and a new job, or maybe fulfilling the 20-year dream of directing a multicultural summer camp, or doing whatever they choose to do that requires diligence and perseverance, they will get to draw on those past experiences. Their instincts will tell them that they absolutely can make it through the hard stuff, and that they can successfully achieve their goals.
Consider when your son or daughter was a toddler. Did they ever fall down, and then immediately look at you to gauge your reaction? They were literally looking to you to decide whether they were supposed to be upset. This behavior reoccurs even as children mature and experience new things. Older children get uncomfortable, complain, and wait for your reaction. This is actually a good thing, because you have the benefit of experience. And because you, as a wise parent, know that now is not forever, you know that “it” is not actually as bad as it seems.
Allowing your son or daughter to complete their camp experience successfully allows them to be unquestionably proud of their accomplishment, as they should be; they got through their significant challenge, persevered, and showed that they could do it “on their own” (i.e. without parents…even though the whole mission of camp is set up to allow one to succeed in that effort, by being able to be supported by fellow campers, counselors, camp admins, and the very structure of camp itself.) Additionally, your child would know that you have confidence in their self-determination. You have the opportunity to follow this camp experience with a resounding, “I knew you could do it!” allowing their self-confidence to burgeon in unprecedented, positive ways.
Keeping a child from checking out early also carries with it the important benefit of fostering independence. A huge benefit of children going to camp (in addition to the fun, friendships, etc.) is their learning to be independent. Picking a child up early from camp completely precludes them from learning that. If I could, I would emphasize that not only is it a bad decision for their well-being, but that of their camp friends (cabin mates, teammates, and tablemates) who would be robbed of the engaging personal interactions with them. It would rob your child of any proper closure to their camp experience, throw off kilter the closure process for friends and campmates generally, and be a negative aspect for the personal development of your child and his or her camp friends.
At summer camp, your child is in an environment, unlike school, unlike the playground, unlike many other social venues, where they are in a nurturing environment. The benefits of them staying far outweigh the temporary parental comfort you might get by them leaving early. Magical things have happened for your child at camp, and can continue to happen if he or she is allowed to stay, continue to push through, and continue to come even further out of their shell. So, don’t pick your child up early. Your strength now will become their strength later. That’s the type of legacy that we all want to leave to our kiddos.
I’m happy to try to connect you with other parents who have similarly had to deal with receiving letters/postcards that concerned them greatly (especially early in a camp experience), only to be able to hold strong, realize that they could trust their camp director’s experience with similar developments (although every child is certainly unique), and have their child returned to them at the end of camp having benefited so greatly from having completed successfully their camp experience…. and not only returning for future camp summers, but gaining the more generalized ability to know that they can thrive after overcoming challenges.
Now is the time to challenge yourselves as parents and do right by your child. Look at the notes you wrote down from your own experiences; after reading this blog, what are some additional thoughts you would add to that recollection? Please do feel free to share your thoughts.
My Anxiety About Sending My Child to Camp
I think there are 3 hurdles parents must overcome when contemplating a first-time camper experience:
- parents understanding how powerful the camp experience is and that it helps the child to grow, become independent, feel confident in their ability to handle things without parental intervention, etc.;
- parents feeling comfortable with their camp choice—will they care for my child and provide a safe environment? what happens if…..
- parents overcoming the void that is left when the child leaves (some parents might not want to send their child back to camp if it was too difficult for the parent). Seeing pics everyday of my child’s camp experience [via the camp’s password-protected third-party photo portal website helped tremendously.
I went to sleepaway camp as a child, and mostly had a great time (even given some not so great times). It was a gift to be able to spread my wings a bit outside of my parents’ guidance. It was my memory of camp that led me to want to send my daughter to camp. In theory, it was easy; in reality, it was a leap of faith.
When my daughter was 12, she was ready (a little on the fence, but that was good enough for me). I was nervous about what she would experience and if it was unpleasant, that I wouldn’t be there to support her, guide her and help her through that unpleasant experience. But I realized that giving her the opportunity to try something on her own is a gift; it’s something that she can be proud of. I tried not to show my fear and nervousness about sending her away and focused on the positives that she would gain as a young person stretching herself.
I’ve seen many children of helicopter parents who don’t know what it feels like when they accomplish something on their own. I didn’t want that for my daughter. I read a book by (psychologist and camp guru) Chris Thurber and chatted with him about the wonders of camp. One of the main take aways I got from that interaction was the importance of not bailing your kid out when things get tough; to let them know that you’re confident in their abilities to work through their situations. It is this mindset that lets the children know that you feel they are capable of growth and wonderful things outside of the umbrella of their parents. As difficult as it is for the children to have confidence to carve out their own path, it can be just as difficult for the parents to let them try.
I looked upon sending my daughter to camp as helping her grow up and allowing her to receive the tools necessary to be independent, self sufficient and happy. My pain is her gain.
Once I was over the hurdle of sending my daughter away, I needed to feel extremely comfortable with where I was sending her. We’re sending our children away to a place with people we don’t know, without cell phones or contact (other than letters). I wouldn’t ever let my child spend the night at a friend’s house if I didn’t know the parents well…what was I doing sending her away for 2 weeks with complete strangers? I think this is the biggest obstacle (at least for me it was). The only thing that got me over the hurdle was talking with the camp director, viewing all the wonderful parent comments and reviews (believe me, I Googled for anything negative). There was one parent who had something negative to say. I spoke with her live and chalked it up to one bad experience.
Overall, I feel thatparents who send their kids away for the first time need to feel that their kids will be cared for, supported, safe and happy. As a skeptic, I believe that no one will market their negatives…So, it’s nice to hear from a kid or parent who experienced home-sickness and how they worked through it. This way it feels real, as though the camp isn’t hiding anything.
What’s interesting is that this year, I’m 100% okay sending my daughter off to Kupugani again. No worries. All good. Obstacle overcome.
10 Tips to Help Your Child Prepare for Camp
- Have them sleep over at a friends house for a night or two so they can get used to not being around you.
- Make sure that they have stationery and stamps so they can write home (and help reduce your “childsickness”!)
- If they have cell phones or other electronic devices, have them practice not using them for periods of time; at camp, they won’t be able to use them.
- Let your child help pack their luggage for camp, so they know where everything is and what they are bringing.
- Discuss the rich variety of different sounds they may hear at camp and the interesting types of animals they may see.
- Discuss that they will be getting plenty of food provided at camp, so they don’t need to bring any snacks or candy with them.
- Make sure they bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray.
- About a week before camp starts, have them practice getting used to the camp’s waking and bedtime schedule.
- If possible, you can set up a time to visit the camp with your child, so they will become familiar with the environment.
- Remind them that they are going to camp to have fun and to learn new things. Encourage them to focus on camp—i.e. Not about anything that’s going on at home—and to have a blast!
10 Things a First-Time Camper Should Know
At our intentional summer camp program near Chicago, Illinois, we recognize that it’s natural for a child to be nervous about attending summer camp. To ease a child’s mind, here are ten things that every camper should know before enjoying their first sleepaway camp experience.
1. After the first day or two of camp, you will have made new friends.
2. If you ever have a time that you become homesick (which is normal, and 95% of campers get it at some point…including many returning campers), you can talk to staff members and fellow campers who have been through the same thing. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way home at the end of camp, and will miss camp the same way (or more) than you may have missed home.
3. The food at camp (especially at Kupugani) is delicious and nutritious. Camps make sure that kids have healthy meals that taste great.
4. You will get to see a variety of wildlife (if you’re lucky) that you don’t get to see at home—like deer, raccoons, rabbits, snakes and spiders. At our camp, there are no animals that can hurt you (and unless you’re super quiet, they tend to run away). Critters are much more scared of you (as a human) than you are of them!
5. Camp is a place to learn, have fun and grow. You’ll have opportunities to learn in ways that you may not encounter in school.
6. Camp counselors are big kids at heart and love to have fun, just like you do. They want the best for you.
7. Be sure to enter camp with an open mind; that way you can explore the limitless potential of new friends, activities, personal growth, and fun!
8. Safety is maximized at camp. There are plenty of adults around to ensure that your explorations don’t result in harm. If a mishap does happen, unlike at most homes, there’s a camp nurse on hand so you would be well taken care of.
9. You can write home anytime you want!
10. Camp is a great place to learn about who you really are. You may find a new activity that you have never tried before (slacklining or stand up paddleboarding anyone?), and find a new passion!