First day of camp

Birch Trail summer of 2010 has officially begun! All of our campers have arrived safely at camp and we are so happy to have everyone together at long last. It is one of the great joys of my job to see old friends reunite as they step off the bus and onto the grounds of their home-away-from-home. Lots of sunshine and gorgeous weather welcomed the campers back to their summer home, and even with some flight delays the travel details went according to plan.

We hope you’ve all had a chance to take a look at the cabin pictures we posted from the first dinner, so that you can see who your daughter will be sharing a space and making memories with over the next four weeks. We’ll be sure to get lots of new photos up again soon as we move through the traditions and introductions of the first few days. Aside from getting their activity schedules, swim tests, and health checks completed, all of our campers will take part in some crucial planning and discussing of the difference between living with family at home, and living here at camp with new friends.

A group-living environment can be incredibly new to most campers, and is one of the best ways for campers to grow and share with friends, making the transition to college and dorm life much easier as they grow older. I’ll talk more about this as the session progresses, but for now please know that we take great care in making sure that each camper has everything she needs to feel comfortable in her new home. Over the first few days of the session, each cabin sits down together to create with their cabin rules; this process helps to set the tone for the summer and the cabin group. These rules are a combination of practical matters (ask before you borrow) and funny (middle-of-the-night-potty-break buddy system). It’s important for campers to know that while at camp, they are responsible for each taking her turn (on a rotating system) sweeping the floor, holding the dustpan, clearing the clothesline, and bringing the mail to the postal substation.

Speaking of mail, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the letters you’ll likely send and receive while your daughter is here at camp. Though most people these days have left snail-mail in the dust in favor of email and cell phones, old-fashioned mail correspondence will be a significant element of your daughter’s experience. First, try to keep your letters positive, upbeat, and newsy. Two to three letters each week is plenty, since too many letters can actually make a well-adjusted camper homesick! If your daughter complains of some situation that is upsetting to her, by all means acknowledge that when you write back; then focus on some positive aspect of her personality and tell her that you’re confident she’ll work things out. Try something like “It sounds like things are tough for you right now, but we bet you can work this out–you’re very good at thinking things through!” Phrases like “I miss you,” or “The house is empty without you” are really tough on kids who are striving towards elf-assuredness and independence for the first time. In turn, please understand that the first ten days of camp provide a “mixed bag” of letters because of homesickness and our normally slow mail service.

Writing letters is a great way for your children to practice expressing their feelings in words. We encourage our campers to avoid short hand and abbreviations in their letters. Because some of our campers are expressing these feelings more in a letter than they would in an email you may you receive a “homesick” letter or a letter complaining of some small cabin conflict. It’s important to remember that in most cases, by the time you respond or contact us, that situation has been resolved and your daughter has learned and grown from the experience. Of course, we welcome your calls at any time, but do understand that letters are often a cathartic outlet for your daughter. Once vented, those feelings of loneliness or frustration often disappear. Do let us know if you get two unhappy letters in a row or if you hear of something we should be aware of so we can look into the situation and get back to you.

Girls very often write funny and sometimes touching letters to family or friends; others have not yet found the ability to communicate in letter form. Some campers will assume that our silly camp names and activities are easily and automatically translated by their parents. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if strange words like “spuh” or “boomshakalackah” make their way into your mailbox. Remember that your daughters are in a world of their own at camp, and we adults can share only a small part of it with them.

Several parents take advantage of the time their daughters are at camp to do some vacation travelling of their own. Our experience has shown that quite a few campers struggle with their parents being away from home (anxiety for your safety and interruption of mail are two big factors). Please be sure to send us your itinerary if you will be out of town while your daughter is with us so we can give her some extra attention and reassurance. Some parents write letters in advance, to be mailed regularly to their daughters while they’re travelling, since mail service can be so spotty from distant places. Just give the letters to family or friends with instructions to mail one every few days while you’re gone; you’ll help your daughter tremendously.

The transition into camp life is no small feat, and we make sure to keep our attention fixed on campers who show signs of homesickness or unease in their new environment. But the first few days and even weeks can also by a bit of an adjustment for parents, too. There will surely be mixed emotions for both you and your daughter. We’re here to make that transition as smooth as possible for everyone, because in the end we all want the same thing: a healthy, happy, safe, and extraordinary summer. Luckily for us, extraordinary summers are pretty easy to come by around these parts.

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