We had a great time at our FIFTH annual Winter Weekend reunion for our Vermont campers. Winter Storm Harper couldn’t stop the Akeela magic over the weekend! Campers reunited with their best friends and made new connections with other Akeela campers, the Akeela spirit was in the air! It is remarkable to watch our campers jump right back into camp mode when their with each other, no matter the location or weather outside. They shared stories, played games, and strengthened their bonds with one another over the course a chilly and snowy weekend. Weekends like this get us even more excited for the summer, when we get to see all of our friends back together again.
Happy holidays from your friends at Camp Akeela! We’re thinking of all our camp friends during this season, and can’t wait to be back at camp with you in 2019. Below you will find slide shows from Vermont’s first and second sessions. We hope you’ll watch them and that they’ll help remind you of all the magical times we spent together last summer. Wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of the holiday season!
Why Camp is still Important for High School Students
I recently had a conversation with a long-time Camp Akeela parent. She was wondering whether or not camp was still an appropriate summer option for her 10th grader. After many years at Akeela, she wondered if it was time to move on. So to encourage her son to get a job or to take summer classes. She is certainly not alone in asking these questions. As parents, many of us constantly worry if we’re making the right choices for our children. Are we pushing them enough? Are we pushing too hard? And how much should we push during the summer? Many parents wonder if their kids need some down time. And others worry that too much unstructured time leads to feeling depressed or lonely or even more anxious.
The transition phase for important life skill
As camp directors, it’s probably obvious that we believe that for most kids, camp is an amazing opportunity for our older teens. For our long-time campers, one final summer as “the oldest”, is like a graduation year. They benefit from feeling like they are the leaders in the community. That they have knowledge and wisdom about life that they can share with their younger peers. It also enables them to learn how to transition away from childhood. So many of our oldest campers struggle with saying goodbye. Either avoiding it all-together or becoming so emotional that it overwhelms other people. Having a final summer at camp with peers who are going through the same transition is an opportunity to teach them. This very important life skill which will continue to come up as they begin new experiences and then have to leave them (college, jobs, relationships…etc.).
Camp Akeela Experience
We also believe that there is an important arc to the Akeela experience. One where campers build upon skills they’ve developed in other years at Akeela. In their oldest years at camp, our teens get more choice in their activity. More freedom to be in camp with less direct (obvious) supervision and opportunities to lead activities. And also to be role-models for younger campers.
After 9th and 10th grades, our campers participate in our “Teen Time” program where they can choose to participate in writing and performing Camp News. Or STEM projects (robotics and building an escape room) and community leadership (planning and running a camp activity and working closely with a younger bunk of campers). In addition, our oldest teens benefit from guided conversations around topics that are particularly salient to that age group such as romantic relationships, appropriate use of social media and technology and wellness (mental health, hygiene, sleep and nutrition).
Finally, camp is fun. While of course we believe there is value to learning how important it is to work hard and to earn money. We also think that finding opportunities for our campers to really connect with peers in a meaningful way. To feel totally accepted and to be a part of a community where they are valued is just not something that can be undervalued. As our campers prepare for life beyond high school, we want them to head in to that next phase of their lives. On feeling secure in who they are. We believe camp allows them to do that.
Social Skills Camp Boston: Staying connected to your camper!
One of the most important outcomes of a summer session at Camp Akeela is that our campers find “their people”. They make their closest and most meaningful relationships at camp. We often hear from parents that they are disappointed that those relationships don’t continue once campers return home. We truly believe that this is not due to a lack of desire but because our campers often find themselves in a mindset of “out of sight, out of mind”. It takes work to keep in touch with people and our campers sometimes prefer the easier route. They will happily hang out with friends if someone puts them in a situation where that can happen, but they won’t go out of their way to plan a get together or even to send an email.
How can you help?
Help your camper remember WHY friends at camp were so special and remind them of why it’s worth the effort to continue those relationships: Encourage your camper to talk about his/her friends from this summer. Ask them to share stories with you about fun things they did together. What did he/she like about those friends? What was so special about them.
Look at a calendar with your camper. Are there dates/times when you might be free to host a gathering of a friend or two? If friends live far away, are there dates/times when you can help coordinate a skype or Facetime “meeting”?
Help your camper draft an email to a few friends to get a conversation going and encourage them to include a few questions so that their friends have a reason to reply and a conversation starter!
Invite Akeela friends to important events including birthday celebrations! We have so many pictures sent to us of friends who’ve traveled far and wide to be at a birthday party, bar-mitzvah or prom! (They are our favorites!)
As parents, get to know your child’s camp friend’s parents as well! Some wonderful family friendships have been formed over the years. It’s wonderful to have family gatherings and is a great way to get the kids together without too much social pressure!
Keep trying. If your child doesn’t seem interested at first in connecting with camp friends, don’t give up! Perhaps, in a month or even two, he/she will be ready to make the effort to connect. Be patient – this is not easy for anyone and is especially challenging for our campers! We promise it’s worth the effort!
The fall is always a bitter-sweet time for us as camp directors. On the one hand, there is a sense of relief to be settled back into our lives at home. And having our own daughters situated with new teachers at school and to be able to plan and cook our own meals! On the other hand, there’s always a sadness and loneliness that we feel as well. We work with an amazing team at camp and love sharing ideas with them. Also we love being a part of a larger community – of walking into breakfast and seeing 200 smiling faces, having fun conversations with campers all day. And also hearing about all of their successes and helping them through struggles.
We know that our family’s experience of post-camp adjustment. This is one your camper may also have felt or still be feeling. It’s not easy to come home from camp after such an intense (and exhausting) experience. Then jump right back into home-life. And even for campers who were well established back at home. Starting a new school year can bring up a whole new set of worries around academic work, new teachers, new routines and new peers.
Please let us know if there’s anything we might be able to do to help. For camper adapt to these many changes. We always find that the more routinized our campers days are. The more we can prepare and preview with our campers, the less anxious they become. We would love to see you help your child stay connected with his/her camp friends. You will likely have to give a big “push” to make this happen. It includes sitting down to help him/her write an email or send a text.
Time has gone by so quickly
Every summer, there are a few moments that stick with me and make me feel proud or cause me to laugh out loud (or both)! This year is no different and as I sit at my desk now, I’m reminded of two of those moments. One was when I said goodbye to some of our 11th grade campers who will be moving on to Beyond Akeela next summer. A few of them have been campers for over 5 summers, which means that Eric and I have watched them grow up. They are now tall, confident, kind, bright young men and women.
As I hugged them goodbye and told them how proud I was to know them. I was struck with how lucky I feel to be able to witness so much growth over 3 and a half weeks every summer. The other moment this summer was watching the talent show. And seeing how much pride and joy our campers experience not only when they are performing on stage. But when they are in the audience, cheering for their friends. These are the types of memories that I hold on to when we’re away from Miller Pond!
Besides being a camp director, I also have my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. During my studies in NY, I became interested in in the study of sleep and later became a Certified Sleep Consultant. Helping families get the rest they need is extremely fulfilling and so important. As I began to work more and more with children with special needs – mostly those with Aspergers, ASD, ADD and ADHD, I learned that these kids have a greater incidence of insomnia. Every summer at camp, I’m reminded of HOW MUCH SLEEP our campers need. I tell my sleep colleagues that we’re likely the only residential summer camp in New England (or in the country!) that is quiet by 10:15pm!
When I teach other sleep consultants about working with “quirky kids”, I am very clear that although they seem to have a greater sleep need, they still benefit from all of the tools we use when we work with our other clients. Most importantly, all of us (including parents) need to have a very consistent sleep routine and we need to get to bed early enough to allow our bodies to get the sleep we need. We should wake up and rise at the same times every day – regardless of weekends! (This allows our natural body clocks, to be well established and in tune with the natural light cycles of our seasons.)
Here are some important tips for parents:
Many of our campers have a great deal of Anxiety and need extra time to settle down – make sure that’s built into their schedule!
Anxious kids benefit from help in “turning off” their busy minds – in order to help them do this, I love using guided meditations. The free app, Insight Timer, is wonderful and allows you to search for kid-friendly bedtime meditations for as short or as long as you’d like. (Good luck staying awake if you’re listening with your child!)
Medications prescribed for ADHD and some other meds can interfere with the TIMING of sleep. It is very important to discuss sleep troubles with the prescribing physician to see if the time of administration or dosage needs to be adjusted later in the day to allow for an early enough bedtime.
Our campers tend to be quite sedentary during the school year. Reading books and playing video games does not allow for children to get the exercise they need to expel all of their energy. Get them moving! Even just a walk around the block, a period of bouncing on a yoga ball, or some jumping jacks at least an hour before bed (best if it’s done throughout the day if possible).
Get outside! Natural light really has an impact on our sleep cycles. When possible – even if you have to bundle up or grab an umbrella – get some natural light.
Finally, turn off the screens. By now, most people know that blue light and sleep don’t mix. Don’t use devices for self-soothing at bedtime. Read a “real” book, listen to soft music or a podcast, or a meditation! Yoga Nidra is wonderful for children who need something more physical to help relax but please – don’t turn on your devices!