Is your kid begging to go to camp this summer, and you’re a little apprehensive? Or maybe you’re ready to register, but have no clue how to pick a program: horses, wilderness, art, lifeskills, AHHHH!
We talked with Oreon “Owl” Millard, director of Camp Tanasi, a Girl Scout camp in east Tennessee, to learn her tips and tricks of setting up a successful summer camp experience!
1. How do you choose a program?
Has she been to camp before? If so, what will challenge her this year and keep her interested? What kinds of activities is she passionate about? Also – what does she WANT to do?
If she’s a newcomer, maybe a smaller or shorter program would be good, or even a day or family camp!
Also, do your research! Check out camp websites and see if they have an open house or new camper day. Read up on the camp FAQs, and see if they have any online resources, like parent webinars!
2. What are some of the benefits of going to summer camp?
One word: independence.
Camp is one of the last remaining places that a girl can go and assert her independence without external pressures. If she’s normally serious and reserved, she can be silly and outgoing, because there are no expectations for her to be anyone or do anything. There aren’t many places left like that in the world for anyone to go – let alone girls!
Maybe she’s nervous about climbing the tower, or kayaking for the first time, but what about that amazing payoff when she TRIES it? You know that moment right before you do something scary or intimidating? Where you are pumping yourself up to jump off the thing, or climb up the wall – you’re getting ready to take a leap of faith!
The joy is in the doing, not the end result! It’s more than just going on hikes and learning archery – it’s about that wonderful confidence and sense of accomplishment.
Owl is proud that Camp Tanasi intentionally practices this in all its activities – even arts and crafts! There’s no comparison of “good” art and “bad” art, there just “IS” art!
Trying new skills for the first time – whether or not she succeeds – forms resilience within her to play out in her school life, her friendships, and eventually, her career. She knows she can try something new, and, regardless of the result, life will go on.
Camp creates a sense of self-sufficiency, because while there are many highly-trained staff, there’s no mom or dad to “do it for her.” It teaches campers to be aware of their surroundings and begin to grasp self-awareness. There’s no option to “quit” camp halfway through, so she learns how to function in something that’s totally out of her comfort zone – but is never dangerous. Heck, it might alert her to something she hates – which is also good knowledge to have!
Going to camp is also like becoming part of a family – it’s a lineage of all the people who have come before you, and who will come after you. There are lifelong friends and lasting memories that come out of camp, and even if you’ve only been once – you’re a camper.
3. What are some good things to bring, and some good things to leave at home?
Bring a journal and something to write with! There will be all kinds of fun stuff happening and silly things being said that need to be documented!
It’s also nice to have something to sit on in wet grass, and maybe an item or two from home – like a stuffed bear or blanket.
Also, bug spray. How is this even a question?
Also, realize that everyone looks weird at camp. Nobody is wearing makeup unless it’s face paint, and everyone is probably going to be kinda stinky. It’s a freeing place! Be prepared for all kinds of diversity, and get ready to get weird.
Stuff to leave at home? Duh, your phone. There’s no service anyway, and you have way too many fun things to be doing to be cruising Vine and Snapchatting. How about some Insta-kayak instead?
But seriously, it’s a break from hectic, plugged-in everyday life, and a break from the daily pressure to be ON. This is time to relax, connect with the environment and fellow campers, and be truly free. Leave your worries and stress at home, and get ready to be one of the tribe.
Also leave food and candy at home. Why? Because there’s food at camp and raccoons like treats as much as everyone else. NEXT.
4. What about separation anxiety or homesickness?
Separation anxiety could occur in the grown up or the camper, so be prepared!
Kick it old school and write her letters! Owl says that Camp Tanasi allows parents to drop off a bundle of letters during check in, and then counselors can “deliver” them to the campers throughout the week.
Also, Tanasi posts weekly photos of the camp activities on social media, which could be a good way to feel connected to what’s she’s doing without actually being there.
In the case of homesickness, every camp’s way of dealing with it is different. However, Owl says she saw a dramatic drop in homesickness when she began letting girls choose their activities for the week. She found that when girls dread their activities for the day – they check out mentally, and get homesick. So, the thinking is if she can’t WAIT for the next activity, and is so fired up about tomorrow – she won’t have time to be homesick!
Owl says that in very tender situations, she’ll call the parent and ask what they’d like her to do. “I ask what would help, and if they can give me some tips. It’s going to be an accomplishment for the girl to make it through this hard time, so I don’t always recommend they come pick her up.”
She can also email daily status updates, if a parent needs to know what’s going on. Owl’s number one priority is to run camp, and keep every girl safe and happy, so the updates would only come once a day.
5. How should she reflect on camp when she gets home?
Ask her questions about camp:
- How was it that you felt before you went to camp?
- How do you feel now?
- What did you find out about yourself/camp?
There’s also an easy activity you can do together, that she’s probably already familiar with, if she went to Tanasi, that is:
- Pick up 10 different and random items from around the house, and then ask her to pick one that best represents/explains her time at camp.
Don’t forget, she learned some incredible things at camp, and may have a newfound sense of independence. It would be easy to slip right back into normal life, with you calling all the shots, but this could completely crush her spirit. Maybe she has a voice that she didn’t have before she left, and Owl’s challenge to parents is to keep the adventure going! See what happens when you give her options, and trust her choices! It won’t be as catastrophic as you might think, we PROMISE.