I’m writing to you today, not as Covenant Harbor’s program director, but as a first-time overnight camper parent. My husband and I have two kids – a son in kindergarten and a daughter in first grade. This summer is our daughter’s first opportunity to attend overnight camp at Kishwauketoe. And if I am honest, I have an array of emotions about signing her up for her first overnight camp.
Is she actually old enough for this? How is that possible? Surely I can’t be old enough to have an overnight camper!
This is her time to experience camp overnight – she will love Kishwauketoe! Singing songs, playing games, making new friends, and getting to sleep on a bunk bed! I don’t think there’s an element she wouldn’t be crazy about!
I know she will love it, but will she actually love it? What if she’s too shy to open up to new friends? What if she feels homesick at night? What if she loses her swimsuit? Or it gets twisted and she can’t get it on right? What if she drops her toothbrush on the bathroom floor?!
In the mix of these varied emotions, I find it difficult to know how to best prepare my daughter (and myself) for her first overnight camp experience.
Many of the life experiences that help kids (and let’s be honest, their parents) gear up for a first-time overnight camp experience haven’t been able to happen this year – in-person schools, more frequent overnights with relatives or sleepovers with friends. When I think about it, my kids have only spent one or two nights with their grandparents without us – but that is it. Although our kids have attended in-person school all year, I know that has not been the case for many.
I love camp, I love the ministry, and the lasting impact it has on kids and their families. I know that camp continues to be a place that God uses to capture kids’ hearts. Here are a few insider tips that I remind myself of as a first time parent.
Take Advantage of Shorter Weeks
The Kishwauketoe program is specifically designed with two or three overnight options. As a parent, I am so thankful for these unique experiences. Having worked in year-round camping for more than ten years, I have seen how important shorter weeks are as for the first-time camper (and first-time parents). It feels like a huge jump to go from almost no overnight experience away from home to a full week away. However, two nights seem to fly by – for campers and their families. For kids, it’s an attainable amount of time for them to understand. And for parents, it’s a more achievable goal to set and prepare soon-to-be campers for.
Sometimes it’s harder for parents than kids
There’s the internal parental back and forth. You want your kid to miss you, but you don’t want them to miss you. You don’t want your kids to be sad when they’re not with you, but as soon as you’re reunited you long to hear, “Mommy I missed you so much!” Of course you want your children to want to be with you, but you want them to be able to survive and thrive without you for a few days. It’s a whirlwind, or is it just me?
They may have a harder time at the end of the week than the beginning
Last summer both our kids attended a week of Day Camp at Covenant Harbor and loved it. They were quite nervous the first day, but both cried as my husband drove them home on Friday afternoon. Although they are regularly at camp, they were so sad that their week as campers was over.
Camp is a place for first steps
No matter their age, camp gives kids a chance to spread their wings a bit – to try new things, take a next step in their faith, or be brave. It’s a safe place for them to play, grow and learn. I have seen this happen first-hand with hundreds of campers over the years, and with my own two during this past summer’s Day Camp. One of our daughter’s highlights from Day Camp last year was getting to teach the rest of her team a song prayer before lunch. She’s usually a pretty shy kid, so learning that she shared and led something within her group was so wonderful.
You know your child better than anyone. Some seven year olds would stay at camp all summer if they could. And some sixteen year olds struggle to be away from home for the week. This year in particular it may be harder to let go for the week and to say “see you soon” for the few days until camp is over. But also, this year, more than any year, kids need camp. They need a trained Christian role model, that will know, pour into and care for them. And we, as parents, need our kids to have this experience too.
Even though deciding to send our daughter to overnight camp is not a decision we take lightly, in some ways it’s a really easy decision. Yes it’s a little scary (for her and us) but we know she’s ready. Every parent wants their child to have as full of a life as possible. And getting to be an overnight camper at Covenant Harbor is definitely a full, rich experience.
We hope to see you at camp this summer. Maybe our kids will even be at Kishwauketoe together! (You’ll recognize me because I’ll be the one crying outside a cabin. Just kidding…I hope!)