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.

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