In 1861, a Connecticut schoolteacher named Frederick W. Gunn took his students on a two-week trip. The class hiked to their destination and then set up camp. The students spent their time boating, fishing and trapping. The trip was so successful that the tradition continued for 12 years as The Gunnery Camp.
It also sparked a movement that has become part of the very fabric of childhood – organized camp.
This past January, the American Camp Association® (ACA) began a yearlong celebration of that pioneering adventure. In the 150 years since Gunn led his students into the wild, organized camp has provided millions of children, youth and adults with independence, friendships and a lifetime of memories.
And with more than 95 camps that are 100 years old or older, camp has become a genuine American tradition.
Something Old, Something New
Traditional camps still offer hiking, archery, canoeing, horseback riding, swimming, arts and crafts, and endless opportunities to learn life lessons firsthand.
But in the past 10 years, ACA has added more than 75 new camps with specialized programs, including cooking, surfing, theater, language and marine biology. There is a camp for every child.
The pioneers of early camp experiences were educators who, like Frederick Gunn, believed that there is much to be gained by a personal experience with nature and with the lessons learned in the community of camp.
Today, camp remains a critical part of the education and development of the whole child, providing an experiential education in the life skills needed to become successful adults – skills such as leadership, teamwork, an appreciation for nature, empathy and a greater understanding of the world.
Not least, while your son or daughter is at camp, you can enjoy a well-deserved break from full-time parenthood.
Lessons of Homesickness
Even the occasional bout of homesickness comes with a silver lining. Learning to enjoy time away from familiar surroundings nurtures children’s independence and prepares them for the future. The fact that second-year campers are usually less homesick than first-year campers is evidence of this growth.
Research has uncovered multiple strategies that work for kids. Here are 10 tips to help your child prepare and deal with homesickness at camp.
Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
Involve your child in the process of choosing a camp. The more a child owns the decision, the more comfortable he or she will feel being at camp.
Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
Reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other. If your child’s camp has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it.
Send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. Acknowledge, in a positive way, that you will miss your child.
Don’t bribe. Linking a successful stay at camp to a material object sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child’s newfound confidence and independence.
Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
Avoid the temptation to take the child home early. If a “rescue call” comes from the child, offer reassurance and put the time frame into perspective.
Talk candidly with the camp director about your child’s adjustment.
Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
Most of all, parents should trust their instincts. While most incidents of homesickness pass in a day or two, approximately 7 percent of the cases are severe. If your child is not eating or sleeping because of anxiety or depression, parents should work with the camp director and other camp staff to evaluate the situation.
Reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association © 2011 American Camping Association, Inc.