Gagayonce, Spuh, Biffer, and Boomshakalackah

What a busy few days it’s been! Even though the weather has been a little chillier than we like to see, we’ve managed to stay much more rain-free than the local weatherfolks had predicted. And no matter how much the weather chooses to cooperate (or not), the Birch Trail crew knows how to make the most of every single day! Aside from getting their activity schedules, swim tests, and health checks completed, all of our campers got to enjoy an all-time camp favorite game, called Biffer. You can check out photos of this silly—and messy—event in our daily photos section.

The first round of trips for the 2011 summer season left today; cabins L-3 and L-6 took to their canoes, while cabin L-5 set out on a hiking adventure. Some of the older girls left for the epic Isle Royale backpacking trip this morning, and we’ll send out a sea kayaking trip as well as a Boundary Waters canoe trip tomorrow. I’m so proud of our adventurous campers, already taking to the waters and trails of our gorgeous Northwoods like old pros!
Back here on the homefront, both new and returning campers have started setting down those temporary roots we talk about in staff training week. Camp “Big Sisters” play a big role in helping each new camper feel welcome, included, and comfortable in their new home-away-from-home. Big Sisters also help set the tone for a positive summer, modeling positive attitudes, caring and concern for others, and a sense of community for everyone.

Within each cabin group, campers and counselors also 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 last few days, each cabin took some time to sit down together and create their own, custom-made cabin rules.

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 toward self-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. Just another reminder that Birch Trail does not accept packages; please share this information with your friends and family.

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 “Gagayonce,” “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.

Although it’s still only the fourth day of camp, most of that initial homesickness we saw early on has already subsided. And just as each camper’s comfort level has increased, so has the sunshine! It started to really clear up this afternoon, and the next few days are supposed to be sunny and warm. We’ll have a campfire after dinner tonight, so look for some great shots of your daughter as she sings her way through the evening. Council fires are often my favorite parts of the session; not only do I get to practice playing guitar (always a work in progress) but I also get to look around at all the happy faces of my extended family. What could possibly be better?

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