Program Series: How to tell if a camper is ready for Term Camp

Younger Campers at Camp Alleghany
Young Campers gain skills and learn the ropes. Photo: Camp Alleghany Archives.

As a continuation of our program series, we wanted to look at how it is you can tell that a camper is ready for Term Camp — for three weeks away from home.

In today’s world, with a focus on protectiveness and even what’s called Helicopter Parenting, such a length of time for a child to be “on her own,” can really rattle parents. It just sounds so foreign to many parents today.

So perhaps some historical context would be helpful.

I went back to Beth Anne Clark-Thomas* (BA), our Mini Camp Director, to ask what she looks for in girls that shows a camper is ready for Term Camp, whether or not she has already been to our Mini Camp.

As BA put it,

For decades Camp Alleghany was a three and half week or seven  week sleep away camp experience. Girls have attended as young as age six through the age of 16.

Camp Alleghany is nearly 100 years old and this kind of experience was considered essential for a child’s development.

Adjusting to camp life, acclimating to community living, and to increased self reliance and personal responsibility in key areas have been cornerstones of young girls’ healthy personal growth through a sleep away camp experience for years.

So, too, has been the joy of watching young girls grow across the weeks in Term Camp at Alleghany since 1922.

As we introduced girls and their families to camp through the one-week Mini Camp, we have kept an intentional eye on how ready each girl is for what we know to be the needs of a Term Camper; things like resilience, engagement with the program, connecting with new friends and staff, etc.

Because of the higher camper-to-staff ratio in Mini Camp (100+ staff to 80 Mini Campers) and the fact that Mini Camp tent counselors are all adult alumnae women, the girls receive an extraordinary amount of one-on-one interaction, observation, and support, giving us tremendous insight into each camper.

As a staff, we discuss daily the girls’ acclimation and where we can offer individualized supports from the perspective of women who have grown through the Term Camp experience ourselves. Many of the Mini Camp tent counselors have daughters who are going through or who have gone through Term Camp as well, offering both historic and contemporary views into the Term Camp experience.

By mid-week of Mini Camp we already marvel at the way the young girls have integrated themselves into the camp program and the few girls, if any, that have particular challenges are observed and supported even more closely.

Missing Mommy

BA goes on to say,

We do not consider it a serious issue if a young girl, exhausted after the high energy, activity-packed day, should sniffle a bit at bed time. Homesickness is a healthy sign! She is affirmed in missing parents and family who love her and then the focus is shifted to how proud they will be of the goals she has accomplished in just a short week!

Awakening refreshed, that same young girl enthusiastically jumps into a new day! Rarely is there a girl who struggles with separation to the extent that she can’t focus on her activities and all of the community events in spite of the support.

Or even more rare would be a young girl who has behavioral or emotional needs that exceed the training of our mature, professional staff.

In these extraordinarily rare instances, (once in 13 years), the Mini Camp Director, in consultation with staff and Administration, decide whether or not our Term Camp is an appropriate fit for the girl. Parents are definitely involved in this conversation and we will have already been in communication with the family before the end of our mini week.

Term Campers and staff members include a large percentage of former Mini Campers. In thirteen (13) seasons of Mini Camp there have been an overwhelming number of girls who continued on to Term Camp, most of the time with very seamless transitions.

Total newbies

But what about girls who have never gone to Mini Camp and are registered to go straight into Term Camp?

First-time families who register campers directly for our three-week Term Camp have generally taken the time to explore our camp, ask questions, and themselves offer insight into their daughter’s anticipation of camp.

Some families, particularly parents who themselves went to Alleghany or any other sleepaway camp, feel an immediate sense of confidence because they know first-hand just how much of a healthy stretch and good time camp is.

Other families need to know that we are always here to help in your self-assessment of your daughter’s readiness for camp.

Because camp is such an all-American part of growing up in the States, we have the decades of experience to share to put your mind at ease.

Additionally we can share educational statistics from the American Camp Association and other bodies affirming just how valuable and meaningful a sleep away camp experience is.

And then we have lots of anecdotes to share for most any concern that a parent has about her specific daughter and I always welcome your calls or e-mails to share these when you’re seeking answers or reassurance

Probably the thing parents find most surprising — and we hope pleasantly so — is that their daughter develops new and powerful inner resources, a healthy independence as well as a healthy connection to others, and a sense of empowerment that she can step out into new situations with confidence and grace.

Camp gives this and so much more.

Our Term Camp starts with girls as young as rising second graders, whether or not they have already been to Mini Camp. We consistently see resounding successes with the overwhelming majority of our campers, including the youngest, and including for three weeks.

We specialize in girls’ development across fronts as diverse as social skills and practical skills, are well-trained in how to meaningfully answer any emotional needs that come up, and are driven by our mission to naturally ” inspire growth through honor, loyalty, and friendship.”

Nearly 100 years of campers and their parents can’t be wrong: Camp works. Let camp work for your family.

If you’re curious to learn more about summer camp, please, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Journey Early.

— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls

*Beth Anne Clark-Thomas (BA) is the Mini Camp Director, and is enjoying her fourth decade as part of the Camp Alleghany family. She helps girls of all ages catch the unique ‘Ghany spirit! BA loves the crickets at night, the creaking of lanterns and roots for the Grays! Please feel free to contact her by e-mail with any questions about Mini Camp