Summer Camp. Descriptions from summer camp brochures and promotional videos extol the almost mythical place where summer days are filled with crazy adventures and new friends. The nights around the campfire are filled with songs and cool breezes. It’s a place to try new things, meet new people, and experience new traditions.
I’ve written before about why I send my kids to summer camp:
- Develop Independence
- Practice Interdependence
- Improve Frustration Tolerance and Resilience
- Disconnect and Decompress
- Connect with Nature
There is no doubt that I believe sleep-away summer camp to be a formative experience in my life and my kids’ lives. Each summer when our kids return home, I marvel at how much more self-confident and self-sufficient they are. They are more flexible and creative. They occupy themselves without electronics and are more tolerant of other people.
During the month that the boys are at summer camp, I spend a lot of time thinking about my kids. I miss them. Honestly, by the end of the month, I even miss their bickering. So I do what any parent does when their kid is at summer camp – I spend a lot of time with my husband; I catch up on chores I’ve been neglecting, and I write them letters.
Over the years, my letters can be lumped into 5 main themes:
- The “I’m Proud of You” Letter
- The “Goals for Camp” Letter
- The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter
- The “Update on the News” Letter
- The Coded Message Letter
The “I’m Proud of You” Letter
This is always the first letter I write my kids at camp. It’s the ego boost and connection back to home that is supposed to help my kids get through the first days of homesickness and their adjustment to the new routine.
Topics in the past have included: improved negotiation skills and teamwork, learning how to set and attain goals, prioritizing including others (especially when a friend is feeling left out), figuring out how to cool-off and take a break when needed, and successfully navigating a new school.
My kids have a good bull-shit meter and don’t pay attention to fluff, so this requires that I think critically and really get specific about each child’s accomplishments for the year.
The “Goals for Camp” Letter
Before my kids leave for summer camp, we spend a fair amount of time making goals for camp. In mid-Spring, the camp they attend asks for goals from both the camper and the parents. So everyone normally has a good idea of what they are hoping to get out of camp. the boys’ goals tend to be focused on doing stuff – more horseback riding or more hiking. Rob’s and my goal’s tend to be more focused on personal growth.
My second letter is normally about being intentional at camp.
Topics in the past have included entreaties to: have fun, unwind, support your friends, give people second chances, try something new, include kids who aren’t always included, encourage other people, give people the benefit of the doubt, say you’re sorry when you mess up, and try again if you don’t get it right the first time.
The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter
This may be the most important letter that a homesick child receives. Now, not all kids are homesick, but no kid wants to get a letter from home detailing all the exciting things they are missing out on at home.
Most of my letters to camp consist of a lot of monotony. I tell the boys about just how normal my day is – work, dinner with their dad, grocery shopping, walking the dog.
It’s just a simple letter to let them know I am thinking about them, that I love them and that the world at home is still stable and predictable.
The “Update on the News” Letter
This is the easiest letter to write!
Think about what your kids love and send them updates about it. I have one kid who loves sports and national news and another kid who loves computer programming and dystopian fiction. I can easily check out the websites they frequent and print a few articles each week with updates and news. I slip these into an envelope, slap on a stamp and an address and the letter is on it’s way.
These letters do a whole lot more than connect my kids back to the things they find important – I’m showing my kids just how well I know them. I’m showing my kids that I pay attention to them, value what they value and want to encourage their interests. It is a powerful way to connect with them from a very long distance.
The Coded Message Letter
This is the letter that my kids beg me to write. They love getting a puzzle or coded message to solve. It gives them something fun to do during rest time or down time.
Our favorite coded messages are: The Pig Pen Cipher, The Block Cipher, and The Cut-Up Letter Puzzle.
You can mix it up – send the key-code before you send the coded message letter or send it after and see if you child can figure out the message without the key-code. If you have a hard time getting your child to write you back, send the key-code first and have them compose a coded message to you, before you send them your coded message! A little incentive never hurts.
Also – If you have a kid who doesn’t like to write letters, try sending them with some fill-in-the-blank, Mad Libs style letters to complete and mail home. It has definitely increased the number of letters we get when our boys are at summer camp!