Category: Current Families

Articles for the ‘current families’ section of the site only.

All about devices

A screen-free summer

At the entrance to camp, we have a big sign that reads: “At camp, we unplug so we can really connect.” That’s our highest aspiration for the campers and the foundation of our policy regarding devices. Please read on for the most common questions about electronics in camp, along with some related questions about communicating with your campers this summer.

Male camper crouched down on one of many natural trails

So cell phones should stay home, right?

Right! Camp is a place where kids don’t use their cell phones. The friendships that develop when kids unplug are a major reason your campers will have such a joyful, transformative, and magical experience this summer. As noted a couple years ago in the New York Times, “Camp is a sacred space to unplug and be able to learn independence and social skills. . . . It’s really important to put devices down and practice the art of face-to-face communication.” So please, make sure the phones stay home.  

Can my camper bring a phone without a SIM card to use as a camera or music player?

No. All phones should stay at home. We do not allow any phones in camp, even those without SIM cards.

Why can’t campers call home?

Over the years, we have found that calls home often have the opposite of their intended effect. Hearing a parent’s voice sometimes takes kids out of camp’s happy, self-contained community and creates moments of sadness that wouldn’t otherwise occur. For this reason, we strongly prefer letters. Of course, parents can contact the camp office or their unit head at any time to check in on how their camper is doing. We will give you a full, detailed update.  

We know there are no cell phones in camp, but what about other devices?

Any device with a screen should stay home. Camp is a screen-free environment. Some campers bring MP3 players for music, but only those without screens. When in doubt, please err on the side of leaving the device at home.

Do campers walk around camp with their music players?

NOOOO. Music devices are not allowed to leave the cabins and can only be used during very specific times of the day (during a rest period after lunch and for about 15 minutes after lights out).

Group of young male campers hanging out on the balcony of their camper housing

I know you post daily pictures on CampInTouch, but are cameras allowed?

We do post hundreds of pictures every night! You’ll have access to all those pictures and campers can see them when they come home. We do not allow campers to bring cameras to camp.

Sigh… Do you think they’ll write?

Yes! We require that campers write home at least twice a week, and we strongly encourage parents to write letters to camp as often as possible. In fact, now is a very good time to draft a couple letters that will arrive before your kids do. Campers love getting mail on the first day of camp… And remember, you can always send emails through CampInTouch too. Our mailing address at camp is:

Camp Zeke
Camper name
31 Barry Watson Way
PO Box 253
Lakewood, PA 18439

As always, please let us know if you have any questions at all as you get ready for camp. We’re here to help!

Six Insider Tips to Prepare Your Child for Overnight Camp

By Jamie Lake (appeared in Kveller)

My camp duffel bags are 30 years old.* This is the first time since 1986 that they will not make the trek with me from Chicago to Wisconsin for a summer filled with outdoor adventure and friendship. As a life-long camper and now retired camp director, I have enough experience to write a doctoral dissertation on how to prepare your child for the essential Jewish-American tradition: going to overnight camp. Instead of boring you with endless suggestions, I’ll share some tried and true advice.

  1. Shop, label, and pack with your child. Gathering items and labeling them with your child’s name, especially for the first timer, can be a lot of work. Doing this together sets the stage for the camp experience where your child will be responsible for her belongings. Kids should know what they are bringing with them, and parents can keep an eye on making sure that unnecessary or banned items don’t end up in your child’s luggage. [As a reminder, see page 11 of the Parent Handbook for Camp Zeke’s packing list.]
  2. Be smarter than the packing list. Camp directors spend years creating and reworking the camp’s packing list, but this list is designed for a generic camper, not your camper. You’ll want to follow the packing list recommendations, but you also don’t want to send unnecessary things. For example, if your daughter hates wearing sandals, don’t send her to camp with sandals even if they’re on the packing list. (This logic should not be applied to toothbrushes, soap, or shampoo no matter how much your child may dislike using them!) Also, resist the Jewish parent urge to go way beyond what is recommended on the packing list. Your child will have limited space to keep all of her belongings. I promise that once she gets to camp, she won’t need every gimmicky camp accessory or 10 extra t-shirts.
  3. Talk about camp, but avoid the scary-funny stuff. Keep in mind that the funny memories you have about mishaps from your days as a camper may only be funny because of the time that has passed since the experiences. You want to avoid mentioning that one time a bat flew into your cabin… Instead, focus on neutral memories, talk about what they are looking forward to, check out the photos on the camp’s website, or watch the camp’s promotional video together.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. I hope that one of the reasons you are sending your child to camp is to help him gain independence and a sense of personal responsibility. Begin now by having your soon-to-be camper manage his own hygiene routines (teeth brushing, showering, hair brushing), keeping track of his things, and making his bed with minimal reminders. These are skills that kids will use at camp, and you won’t be there to keep on them. Your child’s counselors will provide gentle reminders, but they will really appreciate a camper who is ready to do these things without much prodding.
  5. Manage expectations. This can take on many forms in the weeks leading up to camp. Camp is an unbelievable experience, but similar to home, it is not always perfect. It’s OK to be honest about this with your child. The same idea applies to homesickness. Missing home is a normal part of being away from home, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun at camp. In both scenarios, what’s most important is that you discuss with your child who they can talk to at camp if they are having a bad day or are really missing your dog. Kids should know that the adults at camp [Camp Zeke’s counselors, unit heads, nurses, camper care specialists, and directors] are there to help them problem solve.
  6. Do not make The Promise. With the bests of intentions, many parents tell their campers that they will come get them if they are not happy. This is the worst thing you can tell a camper. First, the statement sends the message to your child that you don’t believe in her ability to succeed at camp. Second, it sets up unrealistic and low expectations about camp. These feelings often leave campers to take the easy way out if they are ever sad at camp instead of working through the issues and gaining independence.

The camp experience begins long before your camper arrives at camp. These suggestions will help set them up for success and, hopefully, lay the foundation for them to be become life-long campers, too.

*Note: Do not expect your duffel bags to last as long as mine. I think this is a case of, “they don’t make things like they used to.”

Talking About Camp

by Bob Ditter

Sending your child away to camp is a major milestone for most families, one that is often marked by excitement, anticipation and perhaps even some anxiety. Though camp is certainly about making friends and having fun, it is also about being on your own and being a part of a community.

One of the most important things you as a parent can do to help prepare your child for both these aspects of camp is to talk with your child about it before they go. In fact, it may be better to have several occasional, shorter talks rather than one long conversation…. Children usually do better with this sort of conversation if it is part of a more general discussion, either at the dinner table or, for example, while riding in the car doing errands.

The following are some sample topics for discussion that will help prepare your child emotionally for their big adventure at camp:

Friends. Camp is not anything if it is not about making new friends. If you are shy about meeting new kids, then learn to get to know others by being a good listener. Ask questions. Share what you have. Join in. Remember also that not everyone in your bunk has to be your friend, and you don’t have to be everyone else’s friend. As long as you treat others with respect and they do the same with you, then having one or two friends at camp is fine. Of course, if you have more, that’s great!

Respect. No matter how you feel about anyone else — your counselors or other kids in your group — I expect you to treat people with respect. If you are angry, upset or disagree, there is a respectful way to express it.

Activities. There are many exciting things to do at camp, many of which you may never have tried before. (If your child is tending to be a bit homesick or worried about being homesick, remind them what it was they were excited about doing at camp when they first thought about going there.) You may not like all the activities or you may be better at some than others. That’s normal. I, however, expect you to try. The more you put into camp, the more you will get out of it!

Cooperating. You, like every other camper there, will be part of a bunk. As your parent I expect you to cooperate with others and help out. That’s part of what makes camp so special — kids helping each other out. Most kids will help you if you are friendly and help them.

Give yourself time. One thing about camp is that almost everything is new — the kids; the activities; the routines; the bed you sleep in; the bathrooms; the food and more. It takes a few days to get adjusted, so be patient with yourself. Most of the time you will be having so much fun you won’t mind all the changes, but if you do, remember that you will get so used to things that by the time you come home you will miss them all!

Getting help. Everyone has good days and bad days. If you are having a problem, your counselor is there to help you! You don’t have to wait to tell us if you are upset about something. After all, if your counselor doesn’t know what might be troubling you, they can’t help you. Be honest and ask for what you need… [And remember, if a counselor can’t help with something, campers can always come to any adult in camp, including of course, Lisa and Isaac!]

Helping out. Camp is about fun, but it also requires that you help out. Clean-up is part of camp. You do it every day! As your parent I expect you to cooperate.

Being positive. A great thing to remind your first time camper about is what his or her strong points are. I would focus not just on what they do well, but their positive qualities, such as what makes them a good friend or the type of person other kids would want to know. Helping children identify their strengths can help them when they are having a set back — one of those inevitable growing pains all children have from time to time.

Gratitude. A lot of people have worked hard to make sure you have a good time at camp. Your counselors, the people in the dining hall, the maintenance staff, the health staff — they all work hard so you can have fun. Be grateful for what others do for you.

Talking with your child about these kinds of issues is a great way to support them as they get ready take this important step on the road to being more resilient and self-reliant. For you as a parent it can give you more peace of mind as you allow your child to participate safely in a broader world — a world introduced to them in part by camp!

Getting Past Pre-Camp Jitters

Clearing the Fear to Make Way for a Formative Experience

Adapted from the Child Mind Institute

Portraits of summer camp showcase sun-splashed kids playing sports, swimming, and getting freckles. Not pictured is any sign of anxiety, a totally natural reaction to a new adventure and a several-week separation. All kids experience a mixture of excitement and nervousness when summer camp approaches.

Of course, getting past these initial jitters is part of the value of the camp experience. Indeed, summer camps hone many skills that are useful for future success. These include resilience, self-reliance, social adaptability, and of course, the ability to overcome jitters before an important and valuable life event. The camp experience — being away from home among peers — also helps kids develop social skills, separate in a healthy way from parents, cultivate independence, and build confidence.  

The key to helping your camper get over the pre-camp jitters is to acknowledge their feelings and give them tools to tame those feelings, thus making room for the life-changing, skill-building experience they’re about to have:

1) Let your child feel a sense of ownership over the experience. Familiarize them with the camp environment by looking at pictures and reviewing the online map of camp, and teach them about the camp’s activities so they can formulate expectations.

2) Help your child get excited about camp: Take them shopping for new gear and focus them on fun things about camp that they can look forward to.

3) Avoid focusing on what makes kids anxious. Instead of asking leading questions like, “Are you nervous about making friends?” ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling about making friends?”

4) Don’t trivialize their concerns or offer glib reassurances. “There’s nothing to worry about!” or “Everyone loves camp!” may discourage your child. Instead, show that you have empathy and acknowledge their concerns.

5) Focus on concrete details in conversations leading up to camp. Avoid abstract issues like what it’s like to be away from home, and focus instead on cabin details (like the air-conditioning and private bathrooms!), song-filled meals in the dining room, lifelong friendships people make at camp, and warm nighttime campfires.

6) Reflect on your own formative experiences away from home and share positive aspects of them with your camper. Show that you are willing to talk about the new things they’ll be doing, whether it’s eating new food, sleeping in a bunkbed, getting along with cabin-mates, or even cleaning their own area and folding their clothes!

7) Go through “rehearsals.” A shorter-term sleepover or a night at Grandma’s will make it easier for your child to be away from home.

8) Don’t linger at drop off. Keep the goodbyes short and sweet. 

9) Make communication easy and accessible: Pack envelopes and stamps, and make sure your child understands how easy it will be to write to you.

10) Have goals for each letter, so your child will come away focused on how she is adjusting, rather than on how much she wants to come home. For example, in the first letter from your camper, the goal might be to make one friend within the first two or three days of camp. When you write initial letters to camp, you can stress that it’s normal for the first couple days to feel hard (and for that reason, don’t be too upset if you get a sad letter in the first few days of camp, which is an adjustment period).

11) Try not to communicate your own anxiety; your child can pick up on your feelings even if you don’t verbalize them. What you want to share is your confidence in your child and the summer experience.

12) Help your child formulate realistic, goal-oriented plans for making friends or toasting the perfect marshmallow or passing a swimming test. The thrill of completing these plans can give your child a feeling of success and take their mind off of the jitters.

13) Make sure the staff and counselors know anything they need to know about your camper to head off problems and maximize the experience. Does your camper wet the bed? Are they anxious about water? And let your child know that counselors and the rest of the staff are there to support them, whether they have a simple question or a larger need.

And remember that the cost of a good camp covers more than the arts and crafts: It includes a team of professionals and counselors committed to fostering social learning in your child. [At Camp Zeke, we call this group our Camper Care Team. It includes a team of teachers with advanced degrees, parents, a doctor, and countless other professionals. They monitor the campers throughout the summer to make sure everyone is adjusting well and thriving in the camp community.]

Summer camp is a unique situation where your child engages with a large community of peers and learns how to interact socially in a less-structured environment than school. This is a time for kids to actively make decisions for themselves and develop a sense of self-reliance. Though you may be concerned and wish to intervene, your supportiveness will give your child room to take ownership over the experience themselves. And that’s what leads to the tremendous growth that kids experience at camp.