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Ask a camp director: How do I keep the good habits of camp alive year-round?

Throughout the summer I field many questions from parents about our policies at Camp Walt Whitman. Since so many of my answers could easily apply to other camps, I’ve created this forum to answer the most common questions parents ask about sleepaway camp. Feel free to submit yours here for a future column.

One of the gifts of sleepaway camp, for a parent, is knowing that for a finite period of time, your child will be far from the bad habits of the home that have become part of all of our lives. There will be no screens or social media, no staying cooped up inside, no fighting with siblings. Camper doing gymnastics on the beam at Camp Walt Whitman

 

Camp is like an alternate universe where all the values we want for our kids can be instilled. And while it’s impossible to recreate the environment where your kids can happily thrive without a text message for seven weeks, it’s worth zeroing in on a few of the practices and beliefs that you and your camper value most and trying to recreate those experiences at home.

One camp parent, I know recently asked her camper what she liked most about camp that the family could continue at home, and to her surprise, one of her children’s requests was “talking things through.” The second on the list? More hiking. The former is easy to achieve no matter where you live, the latter would be possible with advance planning, or modifications—say a walk in a park instead.

Aside from asking your child to suggest some of their favorite things from camp to recreate during the school year, you could also focus on an aspect of camp life that appeals to you. For myself and most parents I know, a healthy amount of screen time is the one thing that feels impossible to establish at home. But a new school year is a chance to reset your routine. Maybe everyone takes a personal device hiatus one day of the weekend, or you shorten the time you allow screens. The important thing is to make a plan; you stand no chance if you don’t create guidelines, and the AAP even has an online tool to personalize your own tech rules.

Just thinking about the environment you want at home, and prioritizing the things you want for your family can help you reinforce the good habits of camp. These are the main values we try to instill in our campers over the summer: 

  • Environmental stewardship
  • Thinking about the needs of others
  • Contributing to the larger good
  • Community service
  • Taking on leadership roles 
  • Taking healthy risks
  • Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Keeping active
  • Having difficult conversations
  • Being a good friend
  • Taking and accepting responsibility for your actions
  • Choosing kindness

Not even a camp director can keep up all these healthy habits once school starts and life gets hectic. So start small, and rest assured that if your best efforts fail, we’ll be back next summer to make sure these things happen at camp.