On a sunny and frigid Maine day, I had a chance to quiz Erik Calhoun, director of Raymond’s Camp Agawam, about what a family might keep in mind when pondering camp for a child. As the son of a camper, and a camper, and now the father of a camper, “Chief” has looked at these considerations from all angles. Migis has a long and convivial relationship with Camp Agawam and many of the legendary Maine camps, and Erik’s observations apply broadly to the camp experience in general.
Now, before the new year, is the time to be looking and asking questions, so Erik’s input is very timely. And it’s great to recall the warmth of summer camp days during December!
The natural beauty of Maine is a draw for summer camps, and has been for generations. The legendary outdoor retailer LL Bean is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and at least ten Maine sleepaway camps can match this number. It’s really a cool thing! The search is a combination of art and science…………..do you want a full summer of seven weeks? Do you want a single gender camp? Do you want a general outdoor experience, or do you want to target a particular skill or activity? Day or residential? These are early questions in the search, items that may be decided before looking at particular camps. How old is your child? Is this a child who likes to be away from parents, who enjoys sleepovers with relatives and good friends, who may be eager to attempt a longer stretch of independence?
Sense of staff The importance of the relationship between staffers and campers can not be underestimated. Staffers are primarily young adults, typically college students, and in a unique position relative to the child. Not a parent, not a teacher, not exactly a buddy. They can have an immense impact, in this magical place and time…so a sense of what these staffers are like is an important consideration. “It can be hard to hear” as a parent, says Erik, “but your child undergoes a certain amount of growth” while away, and who helps guide that growth is critical. It is not always possible to visit camp and meet staff before enrollment, but it’s great if you can. Sometimes the “gut feel” when visiting is the deciding factor, although a great deal can be learned on line and through phone conversations.
How old? Children are ready for camp at various ages, some as young as 8 or 9, some starting at 10 or 11. They are often influenced by the experience of older siblings.
Activities There are specialty camps of brief duration that may be just the thing to intensely target immersing the child in one activity. They’re a great place to learn something. Music, golf, horses, skateboarding, tennis, computers….Still dominating the field are the traditional generalist camps, fostering childhood development, leadership, gaining independence, and friendship. They offer many activities to experiment with, individually and in groups, and plenty of down time to just be a kid.
Outdoors We think in Maine, of course, of exploring the natural beauty around us, and camp will offer precious supervised but unstructured time for children. Home may be a place where the clock is watched all day long; not so here. Combine unstructured time with an unplugged period and you have truly found an ‘away’ experience. These days, some staff training is around helping campers work on interpersonal communication skills, which in some cases have lost ground to electronic devices. “Technology is great. It’s great stuff…..but it’s also important to develop certain skills away from that….learning to work things through, face to face.”
Freedom to fail! What? Really? Kids have so much pressure to succeed in school, on home territory. Sometimes to attempt something new is daunting….camp is a place to try, and then try again without fear of failure! It’s also a place to watch young adults (counselors, often) attempt the same, laugh it off and come back to another attempt. What a great example, to learn to take time to practice, then find meaningful achievement.
Risktaking Camp is an environment where kids can take appropriate risks which is a fine growing experience..a high dive, an overnight trip, a ropes course, a skit performance in front of peers. A child provided with these chances is less likely to seek out less desirable risky behavior that may come along. Makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
Erik describes a couple more elements in this brief video; 1) the possible contact and visit, and 2) the emotional impact of camp relationships.
Visit the above sites for more information on how to carry out your search. And remember this; ultimately, you are not sending your child away to camp. Camp is what you are giving your child!