After we move our family home from camp and get our daughters settled back into their school routines, I spend most of the fall talking to parents about camp and the transition home and into a new school year. It’s often a challenging time for our campers and parents too! What I hear most often is this, “I don’t get it. He was so successful at camp and he came home and was happy and texting with camp friends. He even made his own bed for a while without prompting. Now that school’s started, he’s just reverted back to his old ways.” Yes. We know!
So, here’s the question: Did the magic of camp just wear off or did something else happen? I think the answer is BOTH.
There is a lot that we can do at camp that is challenging for you as parents at home to mimic. For example, our campers live with 7 other kids their age and have 4 staff members dedicated to those campers 24/7. The positive peer pressure that comes from living in a community and wanting to be a part of that group is really powerful. When everyone is going to an activity – even one that a camper may “refuse” to do at home – she goes and even participates because that’s what everyone else is doing! When something less preferred is on the table at dinner and the coolest counselor at the table says, “Broccoli? Pass that to me. I LOVE broccoli!”, suddenly, your camper who refuses to eat any veggies at home is willing to at least take one bite. You just can’t mimic that at home and I’ll venture to guess that even the coolest parent doesn’t have the same influence that our staff can! In addition, our campers feel relaxed at Akeela. They don’t have homework or the stress of being in an environment where there are confined to small, noisy, crowded spaces. They are running around, playing on 400 acres of beautiful woods. They have very few demands placed on them (outside of the 24/7 social demands) and they feel like they can be themselves. By living in a community where they are with friends and staff who “get” them, they can enjoy friendships and a sense of pride that they can’t find at school.
And then, yes, something likely “happens” in the fall. The start of school brings with it the reminders of unkind classmates, demanding teachers, or even teachers who aren’t demanding enough. Most importantly, it brings a world of people who don’t really get it. That’s exhausting and it’s upsetting for a lot of our campers. At the end of 2nd session, a lot of our campers talk to us about how nervous they are to leave. They wish that camp was year-round so they didn’t have to deal with school. Don’t get me wrong, most of our campers are brilliant and love to learn but school can sometimes take the joy out of that.
So – what can you do at home?
You can make sure that you’re normalizing all of these feelings for your child.
You can remind them that keeping in touch with camp friends, although time-consuming, is really energizing and healthy. These are the people who “get” you after all! They will need guidance with this – they may not know where to start when it comes to having a relationship with someone they don’t see in school. Help them compose an email, practice how to call someone to invite them over, teach them how to Skype or Facetime (and then stay close by the first few times to make sure they don’t need help to keep the conversation going).
You can set some expectations – just like at camp! You can tell your child that they are responsible for certain things around the house like: making their own bed, doing their own laundry (or at least folding it and putting it away – neatly!). Please remind your child that she was able to do all of that at camp and there’s no reason not to do it at home as well. This will give your child a sense of pride and the knowledge that you believe they are capable. For our camper who struggle with Executive Functioning, a checklist is very helpful.
Encourage your child to help prepare a meal once a week. This often helps with trying new foods. Kids are more apt to TRY things they’ve put an effort into making! (It works at camp in our cooking classes!)
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!