An interview with Laura, our Camp Director, with advice for parents of first time campers.
The first time at camp is one that every camper will always remember, and can be a truly wonderful experience for both children and parents. Selecting your son or daughter’s first camp can be a daunting task; there is a lot of camps out there and so it is important to know what questions to ask when researching the one most suitable for your child – after all, you know them best!
Today we chat with Laura Turner, our Camp Director, to discuss what advice she has for those selecting/attending their first camp as well as her experiences of previous first time campers.
How would you recommend parents to go about choosing their child’s first summer camp?
“There are many things to consider when choosing a camp, but one of the most important is to ensure involving your child or children in the decision. This can help them to become familiar with where they are going to be travelling to. Ultimately, the happier your child is with the choice you make, the more they are going to look forward to camp and the more likely they are going to be to settle in straight away.
“Secondly, I think looking at yours and your child’s goals for camp is important, do you want them to learn a language, make new friends, come out of their shell or improve their fitness? Everyone has different goals but by identifying your own, you will have a clearer direction in what you are looking for in a camp. For instance, we have previously welcomed children who have been very shy and struggling to make friends at a new school, and parents have chosen us for our small size and strong sense of community and attention.
Do you recommend a small camp for a child’s first experience?
We strongly believe that our small size does make us an ideal camp for children, both their first year and many years afterwards! Sometimes in a large class at school or a large group at camp, these kids can get a little “lost” in the background. Attending a small camp can really help children to discover their inner confidence and abilities. During activities, staff are able to give individual attention to each child by setting realistic challenges with a sense of reward at the end, and each child can come away thinking “I can do this” which leads to pride and the determination to continue developing.”
What are the key things to look for during the booking process with a camp?
“Often a camp can be a significant distance from home and so good communication is key. Has the camp answered all your questions confidently with all the info you asked for? If not, why? When your child is at camp, you will want to know that if you need to call/email with a problem, someone will be there to help. Reputable camps will have a number you can call 24/7 to ensure this is the case.
“Another area to look at is testimonials. Read what previous parents and campers have written and see their thoughts first hand. Check also for photos and videos to see a real insight to life at camp.”
Can you visit a camp in advance of choosing?
“Yes, many summer camps like our own don’t operate in the winter, however still welcome visits from families to meet you in person. Altitude run a ski school in winter and our staff are here year round so it is a great opportunity to meet them, go to visit the chalet where the children will live and to see the facilities and location. Some children also like to join us for their first year on our day camp where they travel with their parents, and then join the residential camp the following year. This way parents have the peace of mind they have “tested” the camp the year before and kids are already familiar with the staff and the location.”
Should parents send their child alone or with a friend the first time?
“For me, this comes down to the child themselves and the best person to judge this is the parents. For children who haven’t been away from home before and are perhaps a little shy, a companion can make the child feel less nervous before camp, knowing they will have a friend with them. On the other hand, children attending camp alone are more likely to integrate quickly as they have that desire to make friends more. It is a reason we only work with individuals and not groups, to ensure that every child is in this same position of wanting to meet new people and make friends.
Some children come with friends or siblings and still integrate but enjoy having each other around. With siblings as opposed to friends, if they are really different ages, it can be great to send them together as the younger ones who may be nervous can be assured they have family around, but will be in age appropriate groups for activities and therefore still have the benefit of being separated and meeting new friends. Logistically for parents, it can be nice to send all the family to one place.”
How should parents prepare their child for camp before they leave?
“Talking is great! Discuss the camp, what they will be doing, look through brochures and websites together and watch videos. Also, for slightly younger children, pack them their favourite toy, as this is always nice for familiarity.
“Make sure you let the camp know anything that they need to be aware of such as bed wetting, allergies, strong dislikes of foods, personality traits etc. We find the more information we have the more we can help. Some parents try to avoid telling you if their child has something they need support with yet if we are informed in advance, we can prepare our team to ensure they are aware and looking out for it when they arrive.”
Is homesickness something that parents should worry about with their first time camper?
This is probably our most common point of concern for first time children and parents. It is normal in the first 48 hours for children to feel a little overwhelmed and anxious and as such, when they call home, they can be a bit teary which naturally, can worry a parent. What tends to be the case though, 9 times out of 10, is that throughout the day, the kids are fine. They are busy, learning new things, discovering new places and making friends. When they call home (we only allow phones/ electronics during the free time) this is during down time where they have more time to realise “oh, I miss my family” and so can cause a few tears.”
How would you recommend parents handle the situation where their child is homesick and wants their parents to collect them?
“The common reaction from parents when a child is feeling homesick is to talk for a long time on the phone throughout the free time, and worry. The advice we offer is to actually call for as short a time as possible. This means the children are only thinking about home for a short while and then get back to playing with friends and having fun. I have had many parents worry in the past and say “I am coming to get them” and my advice is always the same, give me 48 hours to change your mind, if they leave now, with negative thoughts of going to camp, you will never be able to send them again. Yet if they leave happy, it will be easy to suggest it in the future. I have never had a parent disagree!
“We have also found that if anything, children who are homesick at first are those that actually get the most out of the camp experience. They make friends, learn to feel comfortable with new situations, develop a strong sense of independence and actually sometimes cry at the end because they’re so sad to leave, which is always great for us to see and lovely for the parents to realise the strong connection their child has made with camp. They are always so thankful we convinced them to give us the time to help them.”
What is the most rewarding part of your job when it comes to first time campers?
“One of the most rewarding this about camp is, having met shy and nervous children on arrival day, to then say goodbye two weeks later where they have really come on. The change a child can make in two weeks is something I never thought possible until running a summer camp. It takes a dedicated team and staff each with a unique passion but it is a great reward for us as well as the children and their parents when they go home with this new positive mind set and new found ability to believe.
That is truly the best part of running the camp, seeing every child progress so much and the smiles at the end!”