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Is Your Camper Ready for Summer Camp?

Fri, 11/03/2023 - 09:00

Hiker girl camp“Sometimes the only available form of transportation is a leap of faith.” ~ Margaret Shepard

What is more powerful than having faith in yourself? Faith that you can do that thing that scares you – that you can do something entirely on your own - that you can meet that impossible challenge and accomplish the goal before you?

There's no specific age that determines a child’s readiness to attend a sleep-away camp. The decision is not so much related to age, but rather is determined by the developmental maturity of each child, and variables associated with their socialization and relationship attachments to family - particularly parents.  

canoe missouri riverAs they say, ‘we come into the world alone, and we leave the world alone’. So it's so important to be comfortable with ourselves. The journey of growing up is marked by moments and experiences that develop and define who we are as individuals; from the earliest stages of childhood into our adult lives, we are striving to be individuals and declare our uniqueness in the world. It’s simply human. This progressive maturing to independence is a gradual rite of passage, and nurturing a young person to be comfortable in their own independence through participation in a sleep-away summer camp can be a wonderful part of the process. 

lil alpengirl campAlpengirl offers introductory camp sessions in Montana and Washington. Lil’ s Adventures are shorter than other Alpengirl sessions. These weeklong camps cater to first-time wilderness campers aged 11 and 12. The shorter duration and modified itinerary allow for a smaller emotional and financial commitment, which can ease concerns for girls and parents who are not 100% certain about attending a longer multi-adventure Alpengirl session. Whether she chooses to attend depends solely on the camper - on her comfort, maturity, readiness, and desire.

At Alpengirl, we say ‘Travel to camp is the adventure before the adventure.’ Whether a camper has traveled independently before or not, this portion of getting to camp can present great opportunity to flex her independence and safely test her wherewithal.

Airport arrivals MTFor campers not quite ready to navigate airports alone, or who desire an added level of confidence to the travel experience, especially for a novice - we suggest utilizing the Unaccompanied Minor travel option. This option is provided as an add-on to airline travel. Unaccompanied minors are escorted by a designated airline representative from the moment they leave their parent/guardian to the moment they are greeted at the airport by camp staff.

A majority of campers who attend Alpengirl come solo, and we begin camp with this in mind by engaging in socialization and ‘getting to know you’ games. Throughout campers are paired into buddy systems to foster connections and bridge the unfamiliarity or living with a group of new people. This, too, helps to initiate the bonds of friendship that inevitably form during time at camp.  When kids come to camp with a friend, they are not as likely to step outside the comfort and familiarity - and pattern - of that friendship, and fully experience the new relationships and environment surrounding them.

Alpengirl CampWe often receive feedback from campers about the importance of the new friendships they made with others they ‘would never have met otherwise’. The long-lasting benefits of experiencing camp independently greatly outweigh the security of participating with a friend, which may, in some cases, hinder the experience for both campers, as it may prevent them from reaching out to others or breaking from long-held beliefs about themselves and others.

Nurturing the whole person is integral to Alpengirl, and socialization is a big part of camp lifestyle. Creating a comfortable transition to a new group dynamic and environment aids each camper in development of their social skills and further develops their social intelligence. Described by psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman as "a combination of social awareness and social facility," social intelligence is key to success in many aspects of life. He defines social awareness as the ability to observe and examine our internal workings, thoughts and feelings (and qualities such as empathy, perception of others and social cognition). 1

Camp produces ample opportunity to develop social intelligence. With access to new people, in addition to new and changing surroundings, camp is ripe with opportunity to practice social awareness and social facility and can result in a more natural incorporation of these important skills into life. 

For Parents: 

In considering whether your camper is ready for multiple nights away from home, you should take into account whether they have spent nights away from you before, and make your decision partly based on how they have behaved during those separations and how they felt after. These past experiences can greatly inform your decision.

Alpengirl BackpackingThe other aspect of determining readiness is the camper themself. They should know as much as they can about their chosen camp session, and should be well-informed so they know what to expect. Is the camper comfortable in their capabilities and preparedness for a tent camping and wilderness itinerary? Making sure a camper is well-prepared can bring their confidence and allow them to feel safe about being away from home and away from the environment that is typically comfortable to them. 

Talk with your camper about camp, and ask them what their expectations are. Make sure they understand what the camp is about and how it is set up. This way you can prepare them physically and emotionally for all the new experiences, from food to friends. These conversations and preparedness can assist you in determining the likelihood of your camper experiencing homesickness.

If homesickness is a concern, know that it can occur for a camper of any age, for a variety of reasons, and it is a natural part of spending time away from home - particularly for those attending camp for the first time. It is important to focus on the potential for fun, and the new experiences your camper will come away with (and reminding them how excited you will be to hear about it all upon their return home). Focusing on the positive aspects of camp will calm any uneasiness and lessen the likelihood of homesickness arising at a level that prevents them from enjoying camp. These preliminary conversations can help to insure that their camp experience will have lasting effects on their development and their sense of independence. This is also helpful for you, as parents, to feel confident in their departure and period of separation from you.  

Summer camp foodIf you are considering pairing your camper with a friend so they can attend camp together, it is advisable to consider their relationship, and talk with them about the importance of forming new friendships at camp as well as enjoying their time together.

Sending your camper to camp with a friend can bolster their comfort and confidence. If they are going away to camp for the first time, attending with a friend from home can sometimes be the one thing that provides them the comfort and confidence to take this bold step in the first place.

If your camper does attend with a friend, you (and the campers) should be prepared for them to be in different tents and to be separated into different groups at times throughout their camp experience. Diversified groupings increase the likeliness for campers to establish a broader network of friends, and helps every person in the group feel connected, included, and valued.

Friends at campKeep in mind that when sending friends off to camp together, there is the possibility for the two friends from home to drift apart somewhat at camp. Each camper may experiment with their own independence and connect with other campers in the group as they develop new friendships and bonds.

Whether you consider having your camper attend camp with a friend or independently, their camp experience will enhance the breadth of their perspective and enable growth and self-sufficiency that will positively impact them for many years to come. If you are sending your camper to camp solo, keep in mind - tehya re never alone. They will be embraced by her fellow Alpengirls and guides, and soon the bonding that occurs in Alpengirl’s small family atmosphere will help them grow new friendships. They'll come home bursting with tales of new friends, new insights and new inspirations. ~ By Contributing Writer & Former Alpenguide Kimberley Green