Camps communicate regularly through their websites, email and social media. But many camps are encouraging parents to communicate in the old-fashioned way: by talking to directors directly on the phone or even better, if possible, by meeting them face-to-face. Directors attend camp fairs, invite parents to camp orientation events in major centres, and encourage parents and new campers to participate in open house events at their camp properties to enable them to meet parents in person and develop trusting relationships. Parents need and deserve ample opportunities to have all their questions answered thoroughly. They need and deserve to know as much as possible about the people who will be caring for their children.
However, once your child arrives at camp, there are fewer opportunities for direct communication with your camper, which is hard for parents who are accustomed to constant contact with their child by phone and text. Most camps have a no-cell-phone policy for several very good reasons.
A main goal of camp is to develop independence
Camp encourages kids, with the guidance and support of present and caring counsellors, to make their own decisions.
Campers decide what to wear. Who cares if their T-shirt is dirty and the colour clashes with their shorts?
They decide what and how much to eat. I recall as a camper (a long time ago) participating in a spontaneous, toast-eating contest at breakfast. I think I managed 12 slices! What does it matter as long as the food choices are reasonably balanced (their counsellor will keep watch); campers don’t eat anything they shouldn’t (the kitchen staff working with the healthcare staff oversee special dietary needs) and they get enough to eat to see them through a busy, active day.
Campers are allowed to make choices about which activities they will attend. Dad is an avid canoeist and would love his son to learn to paddle, but his boy discovers that he prefers sailing – and that’s OK.
Campers are encouraged to develop meaningful relationships
All day, every day, from the example modelled by their counsellors, campers learn to respect, to co-operate, to care and to be kind. With the help of their new friends, they tidy the cabin, build a campfire, paddle a canoe on a straight course or climb a rock face. They have fun and learn to get along with others without a parent arranging a play date. They are encouraged to build friendships and sort out any minor disagreements with cabinmates without adult intervention.
A main benefit of the camp experience is stress reduction
The lack of access to a phone contributes to a feeling of calm and well-being. At camp, campers talk face-to-face; their focus is not on a screen; they look and smile at one another. They stare in wonder and awe at a sunrise, a sunset or a dragonfly clinging to a leaf. They are mesmerized by and focused on the 3-D wonders of nature – not a flat screen! Being outdoors in a natural environment is proven to reduce anxiety and stress.
Once your child arrives at camp, if you are lucky, you will receive a postcard or letter by snail mail. But you may have to patiently wait until your child returns home to get more detail. And then you may be challenged to shut them up! But if you need to do some prompting to solicit information beyond, “it was great!” have your questions ready. “Tell me about your cabinmates. Tell me about your counsellor. What was your favourite activity? What did you do for evening program? What was your favourite meal?”
Many camps will phone parents of new campers within the first few days to provide some detail about how their child is settling into camp. However, you can be assured that if there is any concern at any time, the camp will contact you immediately and engage your help to solve the problem.
Some camps will receive, print and deliver a limited number of email messages from parents to campers. Camps discourage parents from phoning once their child has arrived at camp unless there is a pressing reason. Directors prefer that they and their staff are free to be out and about on the property engaging with the campers rather than stuck on the phone in the office. However if there is an important reason to communicate with the director, do not hesitate to call.
Before sending your child to camp, it is important to do your thorough research. With your child’s involvement and participation, contact those camps that interest you and get complete and satisfactory answers to all your questions. Choose the accredited camp that best suits your child’s interest and needs, one where you have trust in the director and his staff to provide the best care for your child. Once you have delivered your child to the camp bus, relax and enjoy the brief period of time until your child returns home full of stories about his life-changing experience. Time at camp is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Catherine Ross is a retired camp director, honorary life member of the Ontario Camps Association and the author of several books on camps and camping.