August 1, 2016
Two years ago, we started some new traditions designed to smooth the transition of first-time campers. We realized that coming to camp for the very first time is meaningfully different from returning as a veteran.
While this is a fairly obvious statement, it is less obvious how to differentiate the first days of new campers (and parents) from the other campers. After all, they are in the same cabins with the same counselors. They go to the same activities.
We have adopted several strategies. Some happen before camp (the “Homesick and Happy” book for you and the camper packet for your child), but others occur during the first 24 hours.
For example, we took time last night to assure campers that it is OK if camp seems strange or unfamiliar – it was strange and unfamiliar for everyone the first time. We gave them a huge round of applause and welcomed them to our camp family.
Today after lunch, we brought the campers into our home (Susie Ma’am and I live here with our 4 kids all year) for cookies, milk and questions. After providing home-baked cookies and milk (or water and gluten-free treats), we had the campers sit down and ask any questions that they have about camp.
We hosted the girls first and the boys second. They were lovely guests and asked great questions. Some asked about specific camp traditions like Trojan Spartan games while others wanted to know why we named our dog Dodger.
I, however, have to share one question from each group. Please know that I am not making either of these questions up.
One girl asked, “What do you do to make us love camp so quickly? Do you have some magic powder?”
One boy asked, “How do you find these awesome counselors. They are ALL so nice!”
Lets be honest, if I saw a video where kids asked these questions, I would assume they were child actors reading from a poorly written script. But that is actually what they said and it delighted our team because these children were complimenting exactly what we most value – connection, love and kindness.
In case you are wondering what the returning campers were doing during this time, we have a good answer for that – they were meeting together to discuss ways that they can be supportive and welcoming to the new campers. In essence, they were developing secret plans to make our community happy and positive.
The picture is from the boy’s cookie and milk gathering. I love to ask the kids to make the “double thumbs up, crazy smile” face. If you think some of the children look manic, that would be the reason!