Homesick and Happy

Last year around this time we wrote a blog titled “patience, perseverance and time.”

If you have time to read last year’s blog, we encourage you to do so, as it sets a good benchmark of the feel of camp compared to last year at this time. Although some collective anxiety remains from the last 2 ½ years, the prevailing chatter here is that everyone is so happy to be at camp without restrictions and that it actually feels “normal” again.

So yes…what a difference a year can make! The campers and staff have a much healthier foundation this year in terms of their emotional and social well-being and in turn, it truly feels much more like 2019 again rather than 2021.

We are not Psychologists or Social Workers, but the social and emotional lag of many of our campers is apparent. Children and teens have lost chunks of time in their social development. Junior campers (Grades 6/7) are often reacting and responding to challenges of ordinary life more like a 2nd year Sophomore (Grade 5). Although this takes some getting used to, we still look at this as a positive in the sense that campers are responding and emoting more so than last summer. They are engaged, energized and embracing the whole camp experience similar to years past and this is remarkable to see.

The biggest difference in our success this summer so far has been our staff. Motivating many our staff last summer to work hard, to engage, to keep up with normal routines and even relate to each other – was challenging to say the least. This year we feel like our staff are right back to 2019: caring, empathetic, and motivated as ever! Like the rest of society, many of our camp community still deal with anxiety but we now expect this and have become experts in giving our staff the support they need.

The best news of all is that our biggest challenge this summer has not been the campers or the staff. Our biggest challenge has been trying to respond to more messages than we’ve ever had about your children. We have received all kinds of messages, even some asking us to check on campers when their letters are fantastic! Together we are both overreacting to a letter, a moment of homesickness or a small complaint from your child.

After letter writing day this week, we received requests from over 45 parents asking us to check on their child as soon as possible with valid concerns. Your concern is also our concern, so when you reach out, please know that we do not take these concerns lightly. A director will often check on your child and speak to the unit head and counsellors. Please remember that also your concerns are very valid, parental requests must be weighted with us being out-and-about in camp. What makes camp a special place is that all our staff have the time and energy to be proactive, in person at camp, connecting with your children.

With all ten camp directors checking on our campers, we have great news: Out of the 42 “Please check on my child- they wrote a bad/sad/homesick” letters, 36 of the kids are doing amazingly. Even the handful of campers that we knew were struggling, have been demonstrating such growth and will look back proudly at their experience here at camp. We believe that camp is more necessary for children’s development than it has ever been before. Sometimes, growth and change come with hardship. What we often forget though, is that even with our most homesick campers there are so many wonderful moments of growth, laughter and fun.

Another very important aspect of camp is that children can often become homesick when they write letters. Almost every child who we met who was happy, told us that letter writing can make them miss home. Some said that they want to tell you what’s wrong because it just makes them feel better. Almost half of the homesick campers that wrote said that they were having the summer of their lives, and said camp was a perfect 10/10! Many did not even remember that they wrote a negative letter! Funnily enough, one camper said that if they write something negative, they know their parents will coddle them more when they are home, and give them something special when they return home. (yes that is true!)

Children vent in their letters. Think about your kids coming home from school; they may have had a great day, but if there’s an issue you are the first to hear about it. Writing out your emotions is healthy and often by the time the letter is written, they already feel better. During the pandemic, most parents spent a great deal more time with their children than they had previously. Parents are not used to this separation and can sometimes react emotionally to challenges their children face. We understand that and expect that. It’s hard to remember the base line that was considered the norm pre-pandemic. You have had so much control of their lives and we understand that it’s hard for you to just let go. We support you in how you must be feeling.

Thank you so much for sending your kids to Manitou. We always say that if you were here seeing the happy faces, the laughter, the giggles, and the smiles of all the children, many of you would never feel the need to contact us. Camp is not perfect much like life is not perfect. This is okay. In fact, that’s why you are sending your children to camp in the first place. By sending your children to camp, you are giving them the opportunity to work things out and build valuable resilience. Your lack of intervention is ironically one of the greatest gifts of your child’s camp experience.

🤝 Partnering with Parents: The Summer of Fun!

Dear Manitou Parents,

Our mantra at Manitou has always been that the easy part of camp is giving kids good old-fashioned fun, but camp is a lot more than that. For this summer though, we may say otherwise. This summer we have decided that more than ever, we want to wholeheartedly embrace the foundation of what camp is meant to be – FUN.

Each year we write you a quick note about our thoughts for the summer. Past articles spoke about the power of camp in terms of building resilience. Almost 12 years ago we wrote that we were seeing an increase in anxiety levels because of helicopter parenting, combined with social media stresses. Unfortunately, as it stands now due to COVID, anxiety levels are double of what they were just two years ago.

So, the theme of this short piece is much more basic and fundamental. It’s about “fun”. There is a book called “The Power of Fun” and we are proud to take from this book most of the messaging below.

Why concentrate this summer just on fun, and not the importance of inculcating core values and teaching kids to appreciate life, every day and to appreciate each single human being? Why not talk about the importance of giving back to others and truly making a difference in this world? Not to worry, we are still doing all these things, and below is an introduction of our speakers and theme for our Manitou Cares Programming for this summer. But after two years of COVID, we truly feel what these kids need is to be kids again. Not modern-day kids harnessed to their technology, but kids outdoors playing, being creative, being spontaneous, and laughing until their guts hurt.

Kids love camp. They will always say they love camp because its “fun”. But let’s take a closer look to what that truly means. True fun is restorative, it creates resilience, empathy, and community. It reduces competition and resentment. It allows people to connect by escaping from self-judgment while at the same time being fully present in the moment. In the past, we have talked about not over-programming kids and leaving time for purposeless play. Programming kids to build their resume at age 12 in our humble view is not always the best approach to creating healthy kids. Sometimes we fall into this trap because we want them to succeed.

The pandemic forced most of us to rely even more heavily on screens and to try to re-create virtually what was no longer available in person. Most aspects of our lives went online as technology became essential to our everyday functioning. Now we feel it’s time to go back to basics. Last summer at camp it was the perfect time to start the “reset” and we know it was not easy for many of our population to adapt to camp, at first.

It’s been proven scientifically that all these technology buzzes, from video games to social media exposure create a dopamine hit. You become addicted to your technology and to satisfy that addiction you must increase your technology use. What happens is that formally enjoyable “fun” activities with friends feel less stimulating and are too much effort to create that natural high. Even binge watching a fabulous TV show is enjoyable but it’s not fun in the true sense of the word. True fun is when you laugh and connect with another human being in person over some shared experience.

What is even more concerning is that recent scientific studies have shown that when we are constantly using technology, the dopamine created as a result causes a heightened state of anxiety. This is because the cortisol levels remain high in the body over a long period of time. In fact, recent studies have shown that this anxiety we all are experiencing is a physical chemical reaction to our technology use.

True fun heals us. According to the founder of the National Institute of Play (yes can you believe there is such a thing -only a camp director would know about that!) “The times we feel most alive are those moments …. of play”

It’s intuitive and proven with study after study, that what makes a good life, are healthy “relationships”. In turn it’s healthy relationships where true fun occurs. That natural connection with people known as “collective effervescence” is all about when fun spreads throughout a group and how that is so healthy for your mind and body. That is exactly what camp is and gives to our campers as well as our staff each summer!

When we look out at camp from the camp house porch and see the kids from afar, we see more people laughing and smiling than any time and place in our lives. People who laugh more often have been found to have lower risks of serious disease, from heart conditions to cancer. Whether you truly believe this or not, we all can agree it feels so good to laugh. Children laugh far easier than adults because their brains have not been rewired over years of exposure to technology the way ours have.

Let’s all think about having fun this summer, true fun. Summer is a great time to get away from binge watching TV shows and checking our phones all day. Let’s use the summer to rejuvenate and do something spontaneous, something a little off the wall. Maybe it is a trip you’ve always wanted to take or something that will get you out into nature. Perhaps a fun bike ride, a game of tennis with a friend you’ve been putting off or a simple hike in a nearby park? Let’s all just get off the couch, away from our phones, and try to experience what your kids will experience this summer which is fun in the truest and simplest form.

CLICK HERE to read about our ManitouCares speakers coming up to camp the summer.

Partnering with Parents: How to talk to your children about today’s challenges

March 13, 2020

Dear Manitou parents and friends:

By now we hope you’ve had a chance to read our initial e-mail update that was sent out Monday. We continue to be privy to the most current information as the Ontario Camp Association COVID-19 task force includes Manitou’s co-owner Mark Diamond.   

We thought we would take a few moments and share with you some thoughts as we are all going into Spring Break when most likely you will be spending more time than usual with your children.  The medical experts have made it clear that major disruptions to our lives will occur over the next six weeks. We are in a new paradigm in terms of how we function and respond as human beings over the next few months.

We’ve just seen the current disruption in professional sports, and the recently announced school closures. There will be an enormous brief economic disruption. People will need to work from home. Health care will be absolutely overwhelmed. Unofficial or official quarantines will most likely occur.

The best thing you can do right now is be a role model for your children. It’s important to share with them some straight talk about COVID-19, letting them know it’s concerning without scaring them. Right now, the health risk from coronavirus is very low for you and your children. You should help them understand this.

Most experts feel children have little risk, even though they may be carriers.  If your children ask you about COVID-19, be honest but don’t give out  more information than they are actually looking for.   Use this as an opportunity to teach proper hygiene.  Each summer we teach the kids at flagpole how to wash their hands properly; review this with them and emphasize that this is not just for now, but good practice for always.

Our greatest wish is that you use this as an opportunity to teach them a life lesson about not being fearful or reactionary. Let them learn not only health hygiene, but also compassion. Let’s all try our best together as one community to humanize this situation.   Be calm and patient, yet assertive. Teach them about how and why we make personal choices and sacrifices, such as postponing a vacation; this in turn helps others by reducing the chances of spreading illness to the frail and elderly.  

If you are stocking up on groceries as a result of a self-quarantine, take the opportunity to talk to your kids about the challenges faced by people in need who may have nobody to assist them, and turn it into a teachable moment by donating non-perishables to a local food bank.  Maybe the money you save on travel, for example, can be donated to a cause to help a senior’s home.   

We all need distraction now. When we fixate on dangers, anxiety grows, and when we turn our attention elsewhere, it shrinks. That said, it might be hard for some teenagers not to obsess about COVID-19 given that the topic pervades headlines and social media. Try asking your teenager to consider scaling back on how often they check their phones for information updates (“social media distancing”), and to ask them to trust that we’ll share any significant news should it arrive.  Similarly, we might encourage finding distractions, such as doing their homework or watching a favorite show, while shielding themselves from digital intrusions.

A new TV show or book could be the best recipe now for your children!  Take advantage of any family time you have at home as a result of these times.   Good old- fashioned board games, learning a new game as a family, going for a walk, or having a good old fashioned pajama party are your best recipes to normalcy.

Finally, we are sure you are all wondering whether summer camping will be impacted by COVID-19. We know that most kids are already counting down the days until camp, and can’t wait for summer’s arrival!  Rest assured that our number one priority is the health and safety of your kids.  A close second is giving our campers the summer of a lifetime. Know that we are working tirelessly to achieve both of these goals for summer 2020! 

We will continually update you on the situation as it unfolds with respect to camp and wish you a healthy Spring Break.


Mark, Jeff, Jen, Alec and Melissa

Partnering with Parents: Instagram & Social Media Safety

Dear Manitou Parents,

Manitou has always taken great pride in partnering with our parents and the entire Manitou community. We hold many Manitou Cares events at camp and in the city, bringing in guest speakers to discuss pressing issues surrounding our youth.  A few years ago, a renowned physician from the US joined us to talk about the concerns and risks of social media and how to place appropriate controls on your children at a young age.

“TECH FREE ZONE- the best connection is right here.” This reminder, posted all over camp and on every cabin, was the theme of Summer 2018 at Manitou. Most of our campers will admit that they love being able to check out of the instant communication world and talk in real time. It lowers their stress levels and allows them to be engaged in the world around them. That’s one of the many things that makes camp so great!

Though social media has, undoubtedly, become a large part of our world, cyberbullying is a very real problem. Instagram in particular, one of the most popular platforms, has a significant flaw: users can set up accounts at any age without verification of identity. Imagine how easy it is to set up a fraudulent account using someone else’s name and photo and send out messages under this assumed identity? It is important to know that Instagram has no legal obligation to investigate fraudulent accounts to see who created them, leaving users without any recourse.  This form of identity theft or slander can also occur by hacking into another user’s account. In fact, we know of a few cases where someone else assumed a Manitou camper’s identity without permission. We urge you to continue educating your kids about digital awareness. Make sure they know to be aware of concerning content on their Instagram feed, understand that it may not be from the person they think it is, and know that its always important to question anything they see that doesn’t seem right. Please encourage them to come to you if they receive alarming or negative messaging, even if they are embarrassed to talk about it.

It is easy to forget that online actions have real world repercussions, especially for a child. When kids have multiple Instagram accounts, not only are they likely spending too much time on social media, they may also be representing different versions of themselves to a wide audience, unaware of the potential negative impact this could have.

Kindly take a few minutes to read the article below. It’s a rapidly changing world and while you may be aware of what your kids are doing on social media, it can be tough to keep up. We encourage you to keep the dialogue open about the risks surrounding social media and don’t be reluctant to let your child know that placing limits on their technology use is healthy.  After all, that time away from social media is one of the reasons why camp is so great, let’s remind them of this and work together to make social media a positive space for everyone.


Showing empathy to your child

Renee Jain explains what we can do as parents to empathize and relate to our children, how we can see issues through their eyes and help relate to daily questions.

I wish I could go back in time and teach the younger version of myself how to cope, but of course, that’s not possible. What is possible is to try to reach as many kids and parents as possible with these coping skills. What is possible is to teach kids how to go beyond just surviving to really finding meaning, purpose and happiness in their lives.

Read more here