Ask a Camp Director: How Do I Make the Most of Visiting Day?
How do I make the most of Visiting Day?
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.
Most camps that offer a full summer session like ours schedule a Visiting Day in the middle for parents and relatives to visit their campers. Some have wondered whether this is wise–after kids and parents have acclimated to being separated, why start the process over again is one line of questioning. But most camps know how to prepare for and schedule the day so that it goes smoothly. It’s also the one day full-session campers (as well as four-week campers at CWW) get to show their parents their “world”, including the friends they’ve made, the fun they’ve been having, and all the things they’ve accomplished. Visiting Day goes by quickly, though, so here’s how to make the most of your time together.
The most important thing to make Visiting Day successful is actually pretty simple: be fully present. Put your cell phone away, don’t worry about work, and give your child your full attention for the duration of the visit. Remember that just as you are anxious to see your child, he or she is excited to see you and expects your attention. While the 4-8 hours of visiting day (depending on the camp) can seem like a long time to dedicate your full attention, it is the one time for you to give your child exactly what they want in this regard. If your child wants to drag you all over camp, introduce you to favorite counselors, go swimming with you, play tennis with you, go on the climbing wall with you, then you should step out of your comfort zone and fully participate. When planning your day, the most important gift you give your child is your full attention so that you can recognize them for all they have done and accomplished.
But don’t bring too many presents
The second most important thing to remember is: don’t go crazy with the care packages. Some parents feel the easiest way to connect with campers after several weeks apart is to bring an ungodly amount of food and gifts. While we recognize how nice it is for kids to get their favorite cookies, desserts, bagels, or Chinese food from home, don’t let what you bring become the focus. In fact, it’s important to remember that, at least at CWW, all food that is not consumed during the visit is removed on Saturday evening and either donated or discarded. With that thought in mind, some campers try to gorge on as much food as they can during the day, resulting in unfortunate visits to the health center.
We don’t encourage bringing food or gifts for the whole bunk, either. Any toys, tchotchkes, and games that are brought for everyone usually end up lost or discarded. Think of it as a gift bag at the end of a young child’s birthday, there’s really nothing in there that as a parent you want in your house when your child comes home.
A small gift or two for your own child is fine, but, remember, there is not a lot of storage space so for most kids these small gifts become one more thing that gets lost or misplaced.
Know when to arrive and what the schedule will be like
At some camps, the arrival time is different from when Visiting Day starts. At Walt Whitman, we ask that parents arrive between 9 and 10 and park in a nearby lot, before heading down to camp together at 10, so there is no need to arrive early to be “first in line.”
The Camp Walt Whitman Visiting Day combines scheduled activities with open-ended time, with the overall goal of giving you the full feel of camp. This is why, after an open morning to hang out, meet counselors and friends, and enjoy a buffet lunch, we invite parents to come join us for our camp meeting where we sing our songs, hear reports of what campers have been up to, and get a true sense of who we are and what we stand for. The afternoon offers the opportunity to participate in a bunch of different activities, and some families will want to participate in every one that’s available, like tennis, the zip line and the aerial adventure course, swimming, or our home run derby, while others will want to just relax on the lawn overlooking the lake, go for a dip, and hang out together. Again, follow your child’s lead so that he or she feels that they are getting the most out of the Visiting Day experience.
Immediate or extended family, married or divorced
Sometimes parents have questions about whether visiting day should be just for immediate family or if grandparents should be included. This is a very personal decision and there’s no correct answer. However, it is important for grandparents to be aware of the camp terrain, the amount of walking required, and the lack of air conditioning on a hot day.
Many divorced families put on their best face for Visiting Day and both parents visit together. However, for those for whom this won’t work, we are happy to arrange a special day for one parent to visit.
Other details to keep in mind
Most camps will provide their specific Visiting Day policies to parents, such as whether or not pets are allowed (they’re not at Walt Whitman), if tipping is allowed (it’s prohibited here), whether campers can leave campus (only second-year seniors at CWW), and if the camp offers a sibling sleepover for younger children to experience camp for a night.
How and where to say goodbye
We have learned from experience that saying goodbye is equally challenging for kids and parents. To make the goodbye as easy as possible we have a designated location where parents can hand their child off to their counselors who are prepared to take them and comfort them. This strategy is comforting for kids and parents as it is very clear when and where the goodbye happens.
After Visiting Day, many camps schedule an exciting, camp-wide activity to get campers back into the swing of their sleepaway routine. At Walt Whitman, we segue into a Carnival at the end of Visiting Day.
If my child really, really wants to go home on Visiting Day, should I give in?
While summer camp is an amazing experience, there are a few kids who are just not “sleep away kids.” If your child is struggling at camp, you and the camp will be in contact long before Visiting Day to determine whether or not camp is the right place for your child.
Sometimes, parents and camp will agree ahead of time that Visiting Day is the right time to take a child home. However, this is truly the only time that a child should go home on Visiting Day. Parents need to remember that emotions are amplified for everyone on Visiting Day, especially when it comes to departure. A child who is having a wonderful time at camp may suddenly claim they hate camp and want to come home. This is because they don’t want to go through the emotional separation again. However, camps are prepared for this separation and parents must trust the process. If you as a parent are worried about your child when you say goodbye, call the camp later that day to check in and see how he or she is doing. Most likely, they will have moved on, and you will see each other again a few short weeks later.
Take a look for yourself at what to expect when you come to Visiting Day at Camp Walt Whitman