July 21, 2014
Welcoming New Campers
Today, we invited all the first-time campers to our home for a special welcome event. We actually first invited the girls for half an hour and then the boys.
While they were with us, their cabinmates (who, by definition, are all returning campers) were planning ways to make their cabinmates feel more welcomed and comfortable at camp.
We started this tradition last year. We realized that coming to camp can be a little intimidating. Places and events have odd names (Fillin’ Station, Trojan-Spartan games, Parthenon) and people sing unfamiliar songs. Some of our traditions are downright bizarre the first few times you see them. Torchlight – our nightly evening meeting and wrap-up session – is full of silly jokes, orchestrated cheering and adults running around on stage maniacally. It does not take long to become one of the campers’ favorite daily events, but the first torchlight is always incomprehensible.
With this in mind, we invite the new campers into our living room for cookies, milk, words of encouragement and a question & answer session. We told the new campers that each day will have moments of uncertainty, but that each day will have more friends and fun than anything else. I also suggested to them that whenever they get that slightly nervous feeling before trying a new activity or making a new friend, that something cool is about to happen.
The cookies and milk were a huge hit. Here are some highlights from the Q&A session:
Q: When will I learn if I am a Trojan or a Spartan
A: This Saturday we will have Trojan-Spartan initiation.
Q: What are Trojans and Spartans?
A: Every camper is initiated into a team – either the Trojans or the Spartans?
Q: Who decides if you are a Trojan or a Spartan?
A: Destiny. But know that whatever team you end up on is the team you were MEANT to be on, even if you thought you wanted to be on the other one. [I got a few odd stares here, but I do not want them to put too much emphasis on their team. The games last only 3 hours on two occasions. Instead of getting overly-attached to one team, I want them to foster flexibility and resilience.]
Q: What have you added to camp recently?
A: Tons of stuff. Two pools with water-park slides. The Pirate Ship. The Swim Bay Tower. 5 new ski boats. A new cabin on the girls side. A new bathroom for the youngest boys. The Outdoor Cooking Pavilion. Trust me – lots.
Q; What is camp like in the winter?
A: Quiet, but not as fun. Camp is not this place, it is you and the other campers and counselors. We just keep an eye on it until you bring it back to life as camp each summer. We also have an education program called the Outdoor School that provides cool 3 day education programs to schools, but it is not quite camp.
Q: Why do you want to do camp?
A: When I was a boy, I was shy and scared. Camp is where it learned to be brave. Susie and I want to help other girls and boys to do the same thing. Oh yeah, and it is FUN!
Q: When your children went to camp, did they stay in the house or a cabin?
A: Our children stayed in cabins. In fact, we told them that if they even entered the house, they would be pulled out of camp. We wanted them to have as normal an experience as all of you. We did a pretty good job. One day, one of our boys (who was 6 at the time) wrote us a letter after a storm, “We had lightning and rain here. How was the weather for you?” His cabin was 75 yards away from us.
My favorite questions were simpler ones.
Q: Can I dunk my cookie into my milk?
A: Yes. Yes you can.
Q: At the dance, do I HAVE to dance with a boy?
A: No, you can dance with friends, be silly and not care!
One of my favorite evening activities is Safari. During Safari, counselors dress up as animals and the campers must catch them. Some animals are fast and must be chased. Some are sly and hide in creative places around camp. Campers travel in groups of 5-6 while holding a rope. When they catch an animals, they get a token. The cabin with the most tokens at the end, wins.
Counselors are VERY good at out-running the older campers and staying slow for the little ones, so everyone does well in their hunt.
The pictures are always worth looking at. Since we do it in the hour before sunset, everything takes on a particularly lush color, so the pictures end up being particularly vibrant (and the smiles particularly large).