Adjusting to Life After Camp

Too soon our final set of #Summer2018 campers packed up to head home, another season of camp behind them. And when they did there’s a good chance that they found it hard to say goodbye to camp friends, let go of camp days, leave behind camp life, and pack away camp ways.

I hear this all the time.

Whether it’s notes from campers telling me how much they miss camp or their camp BFFs, or it’s parents asking me for advice on how to help their camper adjust to family life again, a different summer schedule, or the return to school, the same story emerges — camp is SO special that getting back to the rest of the year has its challenges.

Camp, Glorious Camp!

I sympathize.

Though I work around the clock during camp’s busy in-camp season, and have most of my family with me at camp most of the time, and so experience camp as a bigger flurry of activity rather than the relaxing experience of our campers, I too make a big adjustment going back to “life back there, at home.”

And during all my years growing up as a full-term camper (and more — before camp and during Family Camp), I know that camp is like a bubble in time, a world unto itself, and that the friendships made here, the rituals and rhythms enjoyed here, the immersed connectedness to nature uniquely experienced here, creates a total world like no other that so encompasses life and one’s self that reemerging into the world of cars and commutes, alarms and homework, extracurriculars and peer pressure, and the entire world of life back home (however beloved and happy it might otherwise be), can sometimes make a camper feel like she doesn’t know what’s what anymore.

Of course, in the world of kids, these things do pass, and generally rather quickly, but not necessarily without a little childhood or teenaged drama.

So, what to do to make it all as smooth as possible?

First of all I’d say to truly give the transition some time. As they say, “time heals all wounds.” But they do still feel like wounds to kids, raw and painful. This is real, and all the more real the more sensitive and attached the child is to camp.

So above all things I’d give these three things as my personal advice:

  1. TIME. Let time do its work. Just compassionately giving your daughter the time to transition is a big one. Probably within a week it will work itself out.
  2. COMPASSION. Honor and validate her emotions. Let her be with her feelings without rushing or minimizing. Let her talk, let her cry, let her feel how she needs to feel without brushing it off or saying things like “you’re fine” or “why are you sad/acting that way?” Letting her feel allows her to develop her own compassion when others feel sad or lonely. It’s a healthy part of human life and realtionships.
  3. INCLUSION. Bring camp home. Let her act out pieces of camp if that helps with the transition. In some ways it’s her way of sharing camp with you. She’s practicing what she learned, and then you (the parent) can help foster that throughout the year. Maybe you’ll implement “taste or serving” at your own dinner table this year?

But I also turned to some experts, that is to say some moms, who offered me frontline advice for weathering the getting-back-to-normal storms.

Feel The Love

First off, it’s important to understand and appreciate the depth of what your camper is experiencing through her lens. As one mom put it,

We live in a highly competitive school district where she is an excellent student. However, one of the greatest joys of camp is that she is free from the daily competition that comes with the academic year. Friends at camp are FREE: free from make-up, free from tests, free from smart phones, free from all technology, free from busy extra-curricular schedules, free from boys, free from so many distractions!  Camp friends are present. They are in the moment with you.  They are not distracted. Rather, they have the time to truly BE with you, know you, and love you for your FREE self.  In this busy age, this is rare and a lovely gift. She mourns the loss of camp with good reason. It is a treasure. 

The next thing is to let her openly process and share all about camp, even if you may feel like you’ve heard enough. The same mom tells us that she lets her daughter, “…keep up with camp friends throughout the year via group texts and FaceTime,” but that in the future she’d like to have her, “attend a house party in Virginia…to reunite with friends,” during the off season.
But this mom emphasized that sharing as long as she needs to is important to her camper:

She always talks about camp!  It is such a fundamental part of who she is that you cannot know her without knowing that she attends and LOVES Camp Alleghany. We live far away, so unfortunately there are no camp alums in the area.

Finally, this mom thinks it’s important to showcase her daughter’s camp life and stay connected to camp in various ways during the off-season. “We purchase camp photos each year and have them displayed. She also checks in on the blog especially as camp time approaches.  It is always fun for her to see who the new counselors will be.”

The Little Things

Another mom shared that while her daughter doesn’t always have as big a challenge transitioning from her camp experience to her school-year experience, she still loves to keep little reminders around about camp.

She gets one of the stuffed animals every year, and keeps them all on her bed. She’s also been known to text/email camp friends intermittently, with the interactions picking up closer to the return to camp. And she did have a couple of playdates with her tentmate from last summer, who also attends the same school. We sometimes sing camp blessings at dinner, and make people skip around the dining room on their birthdays!

Some parents may wonder if their camper will want more of the always-contentious “screen time” in order to keep in touch with camp friends. For this mom, the answer is no — screen time remains the same. And she thinks camp actually helps with this.

At home we limit screen time to an hour a day. I LOVE knowing that at Camp Alleghany she is completely unplugged —  the screen time negotiation struggle is real. But I do think her camp experience enables her to more freely adapt to limited screen time at home. She does not have any social media accounts.

This mom is the one in the family who keeps up with camp. “If there is something I read (on the blog) that I think she’d be interested in, I share it with her. And I do share Instagram posts with her, like the photos of the new bathhouse this year.”

Do It All Again

Imitation and repetition is a great way to learn, share, and down process. One mom of a Mini Camper sent me an email saying,

My daughter had a wonderful time.  I asked her so many questions on the drive home and she just talked and talked for a good hour and 45 minutes of our 2 hour drive!  She was so excited to show off her arts and crafts projects, and she continues to share more and more about camp each day. 

Yesterday she made pancakes and put them on a plate on the table.  She said, “This is how we did it at camp,” and she asked each of us if we wanted a “taste or a serving?” and she served all of us.

Last night she also quoted you and said, “Flush, brush, rush.” 

Today she showed me her dance routine and also had me repeat after her as she sang, “I said a boom chicka boom.”  It just warms my heart knowing she had a great time, met new friends, and created lifelong memories. She really liked her counselor, too.

As you can see, reliving the camp experience and sharing it with family helps the child live deeply into the experience and that reassurance that the place and time was valid and meaningful and deserves to be missed gets it’s chance to be felt and validated.

For some campers the most reassuring thing is re-enrolling for next summer on the last day of camp, something we offer to current camp families before we open up public enrollment on October 1st each fall. Kids do worry about things — about being included, about missing out, about seeing old friends again and knowing when that’s going to happen. Simply enrolling now can be the thing to assuage any anxiety.

But do other things again, too. Make s’mores together and ask her to take the lead in showing you or younger siblings how.

If you went to camp too, whether ‘Ghany or anywhere else, take out your pictures and memorabilia and share them with one another.

Give her some stationery and some stamps and even though it’s old fashioned, help her pen a couple of postcards or letters to special camp friends (or send a note to us!) It’s always nice to hear back from people but even if that doesn’t happen, it’s still SUPER special to reach out yourself, and to teach her the fine art of letter writing. Remember, everyone loves mail call!

Remind her to participate in Candlelight Campfire at Christmas with her camp candle, to share a picture online during International Wear Your ‘Ghany Gear Day each spring, and to join us for Ice Cream Socials or in-home camp parties in your area during the fall/winter/spring (follow the blog and our social media accounts —  Facebook | Twitter | Instagram — to keep up with what’s happening).

Remember that while transitioning back may be tough sometimes, it does pass, and all the more easily if she gets to express her feelings, share some “I remembers,” and touch base a little during the year. And all this makes it so exciting to come back again next summer!

— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls