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Happy Campers and Teachable Moments

Happy Campers and Teachable Moments

The first time I dropped my daughter off at an overnight camp, I left in tears. This happened pretty much every time my firstborn reached a milestone, but this time was particularly tender. She was going to be gone for five nights; she didn’t know anyone in her cabin; and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her the entire week. I did pack a note for her to open each day she was gone, but I wouldn’t be able to talk to her. This particular camp posted photos from each day on their website, so I scoured through them, looking for my daughter’s face…and hoping to see a smile on it. (I did.)

Parents, it is a big deal to send our kids to camp! But there are things we can do to help prepare them for this step, and there are teachable moments to be found throughout the process.

Being Brave

Some kids are raring to go when it comes to trying new things independently of their parents, but some kids need a little more encouragement. Camp is a great place for them to work through some of their fears and find their bravery. Meeting new people is one of the first potentially intimidating experiences. Since our kids won’t likely already know everyone else at camp, we can encourage them ahead of time to be thinking about ways to be a friend, make new friends, and include those who are alone. 

The camp setting itself provides plenty of opportunities for bravery. Whether it’s doing a ropes course, making arts and crafts, joining in a team game, attempting to shoot a bow and arrow, talking in front of a group, or even just acting silly, kids will be faced with new experiences and will have to decide if they want to participate or not. Let’s talk to our kids about these opportunities ahead of time, acknowledge their potential fears or concerns, and encourage them to be brave in trying new things at camp. It’s not a demand; it’s an invitation. Then when they do it, let’s praise them for being brave in trying something new–no matter how big or small it was.

Showing Responsibility

Before our kids even get to camp, they have the chance to show responsibility. They can compile a packing list, go over it with us, and then make a shopping list of things they still need. Once they’re at camp, they can continue to show responsibility by keeping up with, taking care of, and making it back home with their belongings. They can further demonstrate responsibility through being ready when leaders say it’s time to go to the next activity, cleaning up after themselves, sleeping when it’s time to sleep, paying attention to their surroundings, and listening when leaders are talking. Oh, and let’s not forget the often-neglected responsibility of tending to matters of personal hygiene while at camp. (I’m looking at you, tween boys!) Parents, let’s talk to our kids about these opportunities for them to show responsibility and be sure to point out when we notice that they’re accomplishing it.

Considering Integrity

Going to camp might be the first time our kids have been away from us for an extended period. This might be exhilarating for them…and frightening for us. But this is a huge opportunity for them to learn about integrity: doing what is right, even when parents or others who know them are not there to witness it. For some children, this experience in freedom awakens a desire for rebellion or secrecy; for others, it strengthens a desire to live consistently, no matter who is watching. Did I mention that this can be a frightening endeavor for parents?? But we as parents cannot keep our children within our control at all times. Nor are we supposed to. Letting our kids go to camp and seeing how they handle it all can be a good first step in letting them spread their wings a bit. They will learn about themselves, and we will learn about them, too.

What We Parents Can Do

Though we can’t be with our kids at camp, there are some things we can do to help make their experience a great one. Open communication is central to all of it–talking with our kids about their expectations of camp, listening to their concerns, encouraging them in their strengths, building them up in their ability to meet challenges, and even helping them feel prepared for “What if…?” situations (Because while we want to pump them up, we also want to be realistic in expectations.). And then when our campers return home, we need to continue to build them up by giving them our undivided attention as they tell us all about their week–every little detail they want to include. 

Parents, there are so many teachable moments available during this camp experience, and the life lessons our kids learn from them are as valuable as the camp memories themselves.

Carrie Bevell Partridge writes words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. She and her husband Kevin have five children and make their home in Ridgeland, MS. Read more from Carrie at carriebevellpartridge.com.

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