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Jewish Journal

Camp advice for parents: FAQs

by Joel Charnick

February 12, 2014 | 4:15 pm

Days fly by at camp because they are packed with activities. Photo courtesy of Camp JCA Shalom

Days fly by at camp because they are packed with activities. Photo courtesy of Camp JCA Shalom

Every year in the months prior to the beginning of camp, I get numerous phone calls from parents who have a variety of concerns about sending their children to camp for the first time. If you’re one of these parents, allow me to offer some advice.

First of all, know that you are not alone! Most parents and children have concerns about sending kids away for an extended period of time. It’s perfectly normal to have those concerns. I always think of it as part of the camp experience. It’s like a ropes course — a little scary at first, a thrill when you are doing it, and when you are done you want to do it over and over again. That being said, here are the most common concerns I hear from parents, and my responses:

I won’t be able to talk to my child while he is at camp.

Yes, that’s true. If I’ve learned one thing over the last 12 years of being a camp director it’s this: the experience is harder on parents than it is on kids. While the kids are at camp, they are busy going from activity to activity. Camp is packed with fun, adventure and games. The days at camp fly by, and for the most part kids are having the time of their lives. 

The truth is that separation does affect children … but in a good way. At camp, kids develop great coping mechanisms that will stay with them for a lifetime. There’s great value in campers becoming more independent by having their own experiences. Kids who go to camp year after year are more prepared to handle the challenges of being independent when they are on their own at college. 

The fact that you can’t talk to them affects you a lot more than it does them. And don’t worry; there are still ways to be in touch. Most camps have Web sites where you can send your kids daily e-mails. We print them and give them to the kids. Also, we post hundreds of pictures. 

And look at it this way: If you don’t have any other kids at home, this is your time to enjoy yourself! Go see movies, read books, catch up with old friends — this is your summer too!

So much is being discussed about bullying these days. How do you handle the emotional safety of my child?

Camps take the emotional safety of their campers extremely seriously. I personally consider it just as important as their physical safety. Because we have children and staff in residence, camps are often better equipped than many schools to handle the emotional safety of their campers. We’ve developed our staff trainings with the assistance of social workers, school counselors and other camp professionals. We train our counselors to identify the signs of bullying before it happens. At my camp, we have every camper and staff person sign an anti-bullying contract. Campers know in advance that bullying is grounds for being sent home. Honestly, we seldom see cases of bullying at camp. Most of the time kids are really sweet to one another. 

Who is taking care of my child all day?

Our counselors are fantastic. Most of them grew up at camp. They are enthusiastic about camp, love their Judaism and are excellent role models to their campers. What I have observed is that they take the responsibility of supervising campers extremely seriously. Also, because we’ve watched the majority of them grow up at camp, we’ve known them for years. We choose the cream of the crop to be counselors. Every summer I am reinvigorated by the next generation of young leaders.

My child doesn’t know anyone else going to camp. I’m concerned that she won’t make any friends.

Every camp gets its healthy share of newcomers each summer. It’s part of our culture. We are the experts in icebreakers, name games, and team-building activities. The first day of camp is filled with these activities. At our camp, we give the first day a theme that every staff person knows, “Every Camper Has a Friend.” By the second day of camp, it’s nearly impossible to tell who the newcomers are. Many years ago, when I went to camp for the first time, I didn’t know anyone. It was the best thing for me because I was forced to meet new people. Twenty-seven years later, I am still friends with many of those same people.

I’m concerned that Judaism won’t be observed the way we do it in our family.

Luckily, there are a variety of Jewish summer camps in Southern California. I know all of them very well, and they are all excellent. They are also very different from one another. My suggestion is that you learn about the different camps before you make your decision. Make sure the way they treat Judaism at camp is aligned with what you want. If your synagogue is only speaking about one particular camp, pressure them to have a camp fair or presentation where all of the Southern California camps are represented. Trust me, if they’ll host, we’ll come.

I have a child who doesn’t want to go to camp.

Campers often have many misconceptions about Jewish overnight camp. They might think it’s going to be boring, or that they’re not going to get the necessary break from their typical classroom setting. My suggestion is to share with them how much fun camp is. Get on the camp Web sites and show them the camp promotional videos. (You may want to go to camp after watching the videos!) Tell them it’s like a sleepover at a friend’s house, except with a lot more friends and for a longer time period.

Going to camp can be one of your children’s most meaningful experiences. They will make lifelong friends, try new things, become more self-confident and have the time of their life! After getting past the initial reluctance, they will not only have a blast, but they will grow in more ways than you can imagine. 

Looking forward to seeing you at camp this summer!

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