How do I know my daughter is ready for sleepaway camp?

There’s no litmus test for determining when a child is ready for camp. It really boils down to the individual. In our decades in camping, the Bryn Mawr leadership has known girls who were champing at the bit to hop the bus to a Manor House bunk before they could even spell “camp,” girls who weren’t ready until they were Senior Camp age, and even some who ultimately decided sleepaway camp wasn’t really for them at all.

Camp readiness can sometimes be hard for parents to gauge, especially parents who are basing their child’s preparedness on their own experiences. Some kids are just ready younger than others. If you’re starting to think about summer camp for your daughter, we suggest you begin by asking yourself four questions:

  1. Has your daughter expressed interest in camp? If she’s asking about it, that’s a great sign that she’s ready for the experience.
  2. Does your daughter have the social skills necessary to succeed at camp? She will need to know how to interact appropriately with her peers and be part of a group.
  3. Is your daughter able to take care of herself? Of course camp staff members will ensure the health and welfare of every child, but it’s important that she is able to dress herself, brush her teeth, and take care of other basic daily needs.
  4. Are you ready? Camp is an adventure for children, and it can also be an adjustment for parents. Your support is important to your daughter’s success at camp.

If you can answer “yes” to those questions, here are some other important steps you can take to ensure your daughter is ready for a successful first summer at camp:

• Involve her in the camp selection process. Camp will be your daughter’s home for seven weeks and, hopefully, for many summers. It’s so important that she be a part of making the decision about which camp she attends. That’s why family tours and home visits are part of the registration process at Bryn Mawr. We want to make sure parents and daughters have the chance to get their camp questions answered.

• Help your daughter find the camp that’s the best fit for her. At Bryn Mawr, we’re proud to have some campers who are second- and third-generation Angels, and we know mothers and daughters enjoy sharing that bond of having attended the same camp. But we also have many campers whose mothers attended other summer camps as girls, or whose sisters attend different camps, because those families have recognized that while another camp may have been the best fit for a mother or sister, it’s not the best place for every member of the family. And that’s OK! Any camper is infinitely more likely to succeed at a camp that’s a great match for her interests and personality.

• Give camp a trial run. One of our favorite times of year is Explorers Weekend, when prospective LBMC Angels come to try camp on for size over the course of three fun-filled days and two nights. Explorers gives your daughter a taste of camp so she can really start to understand what it’s all about and how she might feel about a whole summer of special events, scheduled activities and nightly slumber parties.

• Be patient and understanding. The first few nights of camp can be a tough adjustment for the most seasoned camper. In fact, it’s not at all unusual for even some of our oldest girls to come down with a case of “pre-camp jitters” right before the summer starts. Be prepared for the possibility that your daughter may need time to adjust to camp. Make sure she knows you believe in her and you’re confident that she will have a happy, successful summer.

• Most importantly, talk to your daughter about camp, and listen to what she has to say. If you’re not sure where to start, there are a lot of great books about camp and some of the feelings that come along with sleeping away from home. (An oldie but a goodie is “Ira Sleeps Over,” a picture book about how a little boy conquers his fear of spending the night at a friend’s house.) Let your daughter be honest about her feelings, and if she’s nervous, confront that nervousness together. When you help your daughter prepare for camp by talking through some of the scenarios and emotions she may encounter, she’ll be well prepared to jump into camp with confidence.

When it comes to extracurricular activities, how much is too much?

It’s a question lots of parents struggle with: How much is too much when it comes to extracurricular activities? Of course, there are days when the drive from soccer practice to karate to Hebrew school is enough to make any parent ready to cancel all the after-school appointments, especially when you’re eating dinner in the car yet again. But the structure, enrichment, socialization and skill development your daughter gets from those activities can help encourage healthy growth and make her more well-rounded. So where do you draw the line?

Child psychologist Dr. Janet Taylor recommends looking at your family’s schedule and then reducing commitments and activities by 10 percent.

“Overscheduled children bear the burden of stressed-out families,” Dr. Taylor writes. “After five hours of extracurricular activities, the benefit for children is lessened. Add in downtime.”

Overscheduled kids can end up stretched too thin to perform well in school and other pursuits, but living on the go doesn’t just take its toll on children. There can be negative consequences for parents, too. From the Huffington Post:

“We have a generation of mothers and fathers who want to be all things to all people,” said Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, who specializes in adolescent medicine and behavioral issues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “They are willing to do so much self-sacrificing for their child.”

Sound like you? Then it might be time to reevaluate what you’re booking this season. Now, no one is suggesting you become a selfish parent and refuse to shuttle your kids back and forth to their favorite activities. But, Ginsburg said, “There’s nothing more important for your child than for you to be doing well yourself.”

According to a 2011 New York Times article, having a warm, loving family life is as important to children’s development as all those enriching activities. If parents are stressed out over the time, money and energy that go into the extracurriculars, that takes a toll on that valuable family time.

From the New York Times article:

On a recent National Public Radio programSteven D. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, said he and another economist could find no evidence that that sort of parental choices could be correlated at all with academic success.

“And my guess is,” he went on, “that when it comes to the happiness of kids, that kind of cramming has got to be negatively correlated. Being rushed from one event to the other is just not the way most kids want to live their lives, at least not my kid.”

So how do you strike a good balance between keeping your children active and stressing them out? The answer is sitting right across from you at the dinner table (or eating dinner in the backseat, depending on what’s on the schedule this evening). Keep an eye on your daughter’s moods. Read her body language when it’s time for ballet, lacrosse or Girl Scouts. And most importantly, ask her what she wants to do. Not only may her answers surprise you; she may learn something about herself as she decides. According to Dr. Taylor, “The process can help them think about what they like and provide an opportunity to discuss commitments, demands and expectations.”

Story time at camp: ‘The Giving Tree’ and ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’

At Bryn Mawr, we love tradition, and Friday nights are a favorite weekly tradition summer after summer. Every Friday of every summer, all campers and staff dress in white for Shabbat dinner. After enjoying brisket and matzo ball soup, we gather in the Apple O Theater for talent night and a story read by Jane.

Some of the stories Jane reads change from year to year as she discovers new books she knows campers will enjoy, but there are two best-beloved books without which no Bryn Mawr summer would be complete: “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, and “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams.

“The Velveteen Rabbit” is traditionally read on the first Friday night of the summer. For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a stuffed toy rabbit who learns that a toy becomes Real when it is truly loved by its owner – and “once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” It isn’t until the Rabbit is separated from his beloved owner that he learns what it really means to be loved and to be Real.

“The Giving Tree” is another story about a relationship between a child and a well-loved object – in this case, an apple tree who gives selflessly to the little boy she loves as he grows up and changes.

These two stories are treasured chapters of camp lore. Older girls know them practically by heart, and you’ll often hear them mentioned in the alma maters our Bunk One campers write for Color War Sing. And since many counselors grew up with these classic tales, they also love to hear them read and share them with their campers.

But it isn’t just the stories themselves that are important – it’s their messages. “The Giving Tree” and “The Velveteen Rabbit” have become traditional stories at camp because they illustrate the most important value we want our campers to hold dear: what it means to love and care for someone else. In “The Giving Tree,” the tree shows her love for the little boy time and time again by giving up parts of herself – her apples, her branches, her trunk. In the end, she has nothing left of herself but a stump, but she is content because she is with the person she loves, and that is enough. And in “The Velveteen Rabbit,” the Rabbit is granted his greatest wish – to become a Real rabbit – because he became Real in the heart of the child who loved him so much.

We’re proud that Bryn Mawr is so spirited, has such a wonderful facility and offers such a wide variety of activities and programs. But nothing makes us more proud than hearing campers talking to one another about “The Giving Tree” or “The Velveteen Rabbit” and knowing that they have learned the importance of caring for one another. We love that campers treasure these stories and look forward to hearing them each year – and we especially appreciate seeing our campers carry these messages of love and giving into their daily lives, at camp, at school and at home.

Celebrations at Camp During the Non Summer Months!

One of the things we love about camp is having the chance to watch our campers grow up. Every year at our end-of-summer Banquet, we are amazed as we look at the group of Bunk One girls leaving camp as mature, self-possessed young women — and think back to when they were Manor House campers who couldn’t tie their own shoes or pour their own milk!

As camp directors, we have enjoyed sharing in campers’ rites of passage outside of camp, too. We’ve celebrated with many of our campers as they have made their Bat Mitzvahs — and in fact, we’ve worked with more than a few campers to host their Bat Mitzvah celebrations at camp.

For many years, the Bryn Mawr facilities have enjoyed year-round use as the Bryn Mawr Mountain Retreat and Conference Center. Once the summer season is over, we begin welcoming school groups, corporate functions and weddings to campus. Our event spaces can accommodate large groups all through the year. But our very favorite Conference Center events are the Bat Mitzvahs our LBMC families have held on camp!

Since we started hosting Bat Mitzvahs at camp over a decade ago, we’ve been privileged to share this important rite of passage with quite a few camp families, and we’ve seen and done it all. A summer camp-style Bat Mitzvah can be a low-key, casual affair for a few friends, but we’ve also played host to beautiful formal events (you should see the dining hall transformed for a magical evening) and weekend family camp celebrations, complete with a day of Color War competition personalized with the Bat Mitzvah’s favorite themes and colors. We do our own catering on camp and work with local vendors for lots of events, so we can help set you up with a DJ, florist, hairstylist… you name it. (We can even find some Bunk One alumni to help you write Color War songs and cheers about the girl of honor!) Depending on the season, we can accommodate groups of many sizes, and we’ve had a lot of fun creating mini-sleepaway-camp experiences for our Bat Mitzvahs and their friends and families. Guests at spring and fall events can take advantage of our outdoor facilities, from the tennis courts and playing fields to the ropes course and zipline – and, if the weather’s warm, the lake and pool. How about a Bat Mitzvah bucket brigade, tennis tournament or canoe race?

Campers who have celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs at camp have shared with us how special it was to be able to mark this important event in their lives at a place where they feel they’ve grown up… and it feels especially satisfying to enjoy their big night in the same dining hall where they spent so many summer afternoons working hard at their Hebrew tutoring. Our Conference Center staff are also popular members of our summer leadership team, so the counselors and leaders for our Bat Mitzvahs’ special weekends are adults who know and love them. Sometimes we’ve even been able to arrange for favorite counselors, group leaders or program heads to attend as chaperones for the weekend!

(Brothers and others don’t need to feel left out… we also host Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and celebrations of all kinds, even if you don’t have a daughter who attends Bryn Mawr.)

If you’re looking for a unique venue for your celebration, you can learn more about Bryn Mawr Bat Mitzvahs by visiting our conference center website at www.BrynMawrMountain.com, or just give Dan a call at (888) 526-2267. They’ll be happy to talk to you about what a camp Bat Mitzvah is like and to put you in touch with our Conference Center team.

Preparing You and Your Camper for Camp!

The below blog entry was written for us by Bob Ditter, a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Boston.  Bob has been working with the Bryn Mawr staff for the past eight years.  In addition to training our staff, Bob spends four days at camp during the summer “in the trenches” helping campers and staff.

As always, feel free to call or email if you have any questions or concerns!

Getting Ready for Camp
If you are the parent of a first time camper at Lake Bryn Mawr Camp and you are like most parents, you are probably both excited about the prospect of your child going off to camp and a little nervous. After all you are about to open a new chapter in your family’s story—the start of a new adventure for your daughter! Camp professionals have been helping kids become more independent for years, and Dan and Jane Kagan are among the best at helping girls find their own voice while putting families at ease with the entire process. Dan and Jane think of camp as “life experience with training wheels”—a powerful way to add to and enhance the many strengths your daughter can develop. The Kagans see this as their true business. What your daughter will talk about are all the friends she is making and all the activities she is doing, like horseback riding, gymnastics, dance, theater, swimming or arts and crafts. What seasoned camp families know, however, is that by being at camp their daughters are becoming even more self-reliant, confident and self-assured. In other words, Bryn Mawr teaches coping skills for girls while having the time of their lives!

So what can you do as a parent to get yourself and your daughter ready for this life-enhancing experience we call camp? Having been involved with camp for over thirty years I have a few ideas that I’d like to share with you.

Getting Yourself Ready
First, notice that when I posed the question about what you can do to get your daughter ready for camp I included you in the process! There are 4 pieces of advice I offer to help you as the parent get ready for camp!

  • As parents you need to be absolutely clear with yourself about the reasons you signed your daughter up for camp in the first place. Whether it was to make new friends, learn new skills or learn to fend for herself in a safe and supportive environment, you need to put those reasons “front and center” in your thinking and not lose track of them when you inevitably have a sad feeling about seeing your child off on the camp bus next month! As I often tell parents, one of the best things we can do for our children is to encourage them to take on the world in a healthy and sustainable way. Camp offers the perfect opportunity for helping widen your daughter’s horizons.
  • Reassure yourself as a parent that you’ve done your job. All the advice, coaching, caring and goodwill is in there. Trust the job you have done. Your daughter has it in her! You are simply letting her try out her wings even if it means she hits a bump or two along the way! There are many caring adults at camp to help her on her way!
  • Have allies!  Letting kids go—off to camp, off to college, off on a long trip without you—is an emotionally charged event.  Let your friends, colleagues, or spouses support you emotionally as you adjust to the “child sickness” you may occasionally feel.
  • Take advantage of the new freedom you will have and make some plans! One of the best things you can do to develop your child’s independence is to have a life of your own. When children see their parents thriving and enjoying their adult lives it helps them think about growing up in a much more positive light. Parents sometimes tell me they feel guilty enjoying themselves when their children are away, but this is n fact a key to healthy living.


Inoculating your child against homesickness

Many parents ask about what they can do to minimize homesickness. First, let’s remember that homesickness is a natural phenomenon most kids experience and survive! That said, here are some ideas about what you can do to help your daughter get ready for camp:

  • Involve them in shopping for camp, maybe even doing some packing together.
  • Pack a favorite personal item, like a T-shirt, cap, small stuffed animal.
  • Have the child “practice” showering, sleeping over at friends or relatives and writing letters. (Most children today don’t write letters, so get them pre-addressed envelops and practice!)
  • Talk with them about the fun things they will be doing at camp. It can even help to watch the camp DVD together as a way of generating some ideas.
  • Share your own stories about your first times away from home, but keep it short and positive!
  • Point out what your daughter does well and how that will be an asset to her at camp.
  • Post a letter to your new camper a few days before she leaves for camp so it will be there on the first day when she arrives.

If your daughter does become homesick, tell her this is normal, that once she makes friends she will feel better and that you believe in her! Remember that children get caught up in “the moment,” and that even intense feelings eventually pass. I have seen children at camp speaking in desperate terms to their parents on the phone, only to be smiling and having fun minutes later while leaving their parents feeling devastated! Work with the well trained and experienced folks at camp and your daughter will grow from the experience!

Other conversations to have with your daughter before she comes to camp:

  • Every camper is part of a group and as your parent we expect you to cooperate and help out.
  • If you are having a problem, your counselor is there to help you.  Don’t wait to tell us, you can tell your counselor.  Be honest and ask for what you need.
  • If your counselor doesn’t help or is part of what makes you uncomfortable, talk to your Division Leader, Marjori, Max or Pilar.
  • Clean-up is part of camp; you do it everyday; we expect you to participate.
  • There are many new things at camp and you may not like them all or be as good at some as you are at others.  We expect you to try!
  • Go about making a new friend or two.  If you are timid about meeting someone new, ask about what they like and be a good listener. Your counselor can help you with this!
  • Not everyone has to be your friend, and you don’t have to be everyone else’s friend.  If you have one or two good friends at camp, that’s great!
  • Have fun and tell us all about it on your first call home!

Summer Sisters: Friendships, Experience and Returning to Summer Camp for Girls

Summer Sisters

Have you ever heard the phrase “summer sisters”? If you didn’t go to sleepaway camp as a child, you might not know what we’re talking about. For girls who grow up going to camp, “summer sisters” are the friends they make at the lunch table, in the bunk, on the tennis courts, or around the campfire — the friends with whom they share a special bond for life. Summer sisters grow up to be college roommates, bridesmaids, godmothers, and friends for life — the kind of friend you can call up when you’re feeling down and know she’ll be able to say just the thing to make you forget all your troubles. Continue reading “Summer Sisters: Friendships, Experience and Returning to Summer Camp for Girls”