This summer, many first-time campers will get their first taste of independence at camp. For most, it will be the first time they’ve spent longer than a few days away from their families.
Being away from home can be difficult. Especially when you’re a kid. So, it’s no surprise the American Camp Association (ACA) reported that in 2018, 83% of campers experienced homesickness on at least one day of residential camp. However, our camper survey in 2018 recorded about half that figure.
Experiencing homesickness is part of growing up. Still, with a little preparation, parents can help to minimize their child’s homesickness. Below, we share 10 tried-and-true tips for preventing homesickness at Camp Voyageur.
Being away from home, leaving family and friends behind, and entering the exciting – yet daunting – new world of camp may cause many feelings of discomfort. The more that your child owns the decision, the more comfortable they will feel.
These items could be favorite books, blankets, pillows, family pictures, and gear. A small, simple reminder of home may help your child cope while away at camp.
Instead, leave your child in an area surrounded by peers and/or staff. Allowing your child to watch your car drive away will only lead to feelings of isolation, detachment, and subsequently immediate homesickness. Make the goodbye brief and leave on a positive note.
Our in-camp programs often inherently make campers too busy to be homesick. But downtime can be a challenge for the introspective camper. Whenever homesickness is detected, we get the camper up and into an activity with others, rather than thinking about their dog. We find out what they want to do most at camp – whether it be sailing, making crafts, playing pickleball, or other activities – and we indulge the homesick camper until they forget why they were ever sad in the first place.
Campers also share their days alongside others - with cabinmates, tablemates, teammates, and tripmates. Every camper is an important element in each group, and feels that way. Camaraderie is an antidote for homesickness.
Furthermore, we coach kids to be mindful - to live in the moment. When a camper is feeling sad we encourage them to breathe in deeply, look at the beauty all around, smell the woods, and enjoy their friends here and now.
Our staff also has nearly constant contact and daily debriefs, where any issues are addressed, and specific interventions are planned. Our staff training includes discussions on dealing with homesickness, emotional intelligence training, methods for preventing homesickness, and more.
Additional staff remedies for relieving homesickness include: Day 1 get-to-know-you games, small staff-to-camper ratios, close family-like atmosphere, bedtime stories, pairing veteran campers with younger campers at meals or activities, explaining homesickness and how it’s completely normal, not allowing campers to walk, eat, swim, or play alone.
Veteran counselor Ned Yonkers experienced extreme bouts of homesickness while he was a camper in the early 2000’s. Voyageur staff members used to create entire days revolving around activites that Ned loved the most. He draws on that experience today to help campers when they’re feeling homesick.
You sent your child to camp so that they may develop confidence, independence, and experience personal growth. These admirable traits don’t come without a small cost. Only through challenges, may we experience rewards – and subsequent growth. Homesickness is a transitional phase that will ultimately stimulate your child’s growth.
While our 12-day intro sessions are excellent for younger campers who want to try camp for the first time, the last day of camp is never far enough away in a 12-day camper’s mind for them to forget about home for awhile and immerse themselves in the new camp lifestyle. Four- and eight-week campers are able to completely remove themselves from the world they once lived in, immerse themselves into the Northwoods, and reinvent themselves (and pilot their reinvented selves) at camp. That is what our camp is all about.
Since camp is tech-free, emailing your child is not an option. Good ole-fashioned handwritten letters are King, and we encourage campers to write home often. Please don’t include candy, electronics, or other contraband in care packages, as they will only serve to decrease your child’s camp and wilderness experience. But always remember rule #8.
Instead, opt to make your child feel like you are the one missing out on the great experience they are having. You could tell your child how much fun it looks/sounds like they’re having and how you wish you could’ve gone to Isle Royale or Moose Lake, too. Ask your child to tell you all about their experiences and keep the focus on them.
This will ensure that your child receives the letter within a few days of arriving at camp, right before they go on their first multi-day wilderness trip. Letters can take 4-7 business days to get to our secluded peninsula in the Northwoods. Letters sent out even a couple of days after your child arrives at camp – due to our wilderness trips leaving on Day 5 of camp – means they won’t reach camp until at least Day 10, by which time your child may be wondering if you’ve forgotten all about their existence.
Believe it or not, this is more common than parents think. Our dynamic camp program often ensures that children are too busy with activities and absorbed in the Great Northwoods to bother with writing home. They know we post pictures almost daily, and that you are looking at the pictures. Some kids believe that is all the communication they need. Understand that in these cases, your child is having the peak camp experience and they’re so immersed in their environment that they forget about home for awhile. Maybe “10 Tips for Preventing Childsickness While Your Child is at Camp” should be our next blog post…
At Voyageur, “we work and play, and have a lot of fun,” as Mim Erdmann coined in the camp song nearly 70 years ago. So, remember to encourage your child to trust our staff, be enthusiastic, and to live in the moment in order to get the most out of camp. Because time flies, and before you know it you will be driving up the camp road to pick up your child. It is our hope that you will immediately notice the changes in your child, as a direct result of both of you going out of your comfort zones and experiencing growth. In a few short months, who knows, maybe you’ll both be wishing your child was back at camp…