It is natural for most campers to experience a degree of homesickness, mainly if it is their first time away from home. It is not uncommon for parents to receive a homesick letter, only to call the camp and learn that homesick feelings have passed and the camper is now having fun.
Tekoa's Family Group Leaders (FGL) plan the first few hours in great detail to help campers feel more comfortable at camp. Campers arriving at camp will quickly engage in games and ice breakers to help them meet new friends and feel more connected with their cabin.
Even with the efforts and support of your camper’s FGL and other Tekoa staff, there are things you can do at home to start the process of preventing or minimizing homesickness.
To help you and your family prepare for summer camp, here are 7 Do’s and 1 Don’t for Preventing Homesickness:
- Have the Conversation: Before camp, talk to your camper about camp, stressing that it may involve challenges that will help them to grow and gain new confidence. Mention homesickness and let them know it is normal to miss the familiarity of being home.
- Practice at Home: Have younger campers practice managing their daily routine: getting ready for bed, starting the shower, getting dressed or organizing their belongings. Campers who feel more confident in these areas tend to have a smoother transition to camp.
- Pack Together: Involve campers in the process of packing and preparing for camp. Working together ensures that campers will not forget to pack essential items and also helps them feel more confident and prepared.
- Help them to Connect: Encourage your camper to talk with their leaders if they are starting to miss home. Tekoa staff receive training in a variety of strategies that can help your camper feel more comfortable and get involved in camp!
- Develop Strategies: Evening and bedtime are when homesickness often arises. Talk with your camper in advance about things that they can do to make bedtime easier. Some campers find having a quote, favorite memory, or a few items from home will help.
- Stay Connected: Write a few letters to your camper before camp begins and drop them off on check-in day in the dining hall area; since it takes a few days for the US Postal mail to arrive, so this ensures your camper will have letters from home during the first few days of camp.
- Use Positive and Encouraging Language: When writing letters, be sure to focus on what your camper is looking forward to doing at camp, encouraging them to achieve the goals they set with you, and help them to write you a letter telling you about the fun things they are doing at camp. Try to avoid topics that might make them miss home more.
- Watch out! The most common mistake parents can make is the Pick-Up Deal. It’s normal for campers to ask, “What if I feel homesick?” Please never say, “If you feel homesick, I’ll come and get you.” This conveys a message of doubt and pity that undermines a camper’s confidence and sense of independence. Pick-Up Deals become mental crutches and self-fulfilling prophecies for campers as soon as they arrive at camp (American Camp Association). You can read more about strategies to help campers succeed here. Focus on encouraging your camper to enjoy this new experience.
We will partner with you to help your camper adjust quickly and thrive during their time at Camp Tekoa!
Camp Tekoa’s role in helping with homesick campers:
(All Tekoa team members are required to complete two weeks of staff training before camp opening. Homesickness is one of the many topics covered in depth during the two weeks of training.)
- The camper’s FGL informs the director or assistant director of the camper’s homesickness. The counselor also encourages the camper to become actively involved in activities and to have fun.
- If the camper wants to call home, the director (s) will consult with the counselor. One of the directors or members of the summer planning team will call the parents to inform them of their camper's homesickness. At this point, Tekoa staff consult with parents as to how to best address their child about the issue.
- Several options are possible with the best solution being that the camper tries to become more actively involved and stay at camp. The camper might call and speak with his/her parent. In most cases, a phone call will only make the situation worse. In the event a child has to call home, the phone call is limited to 5 minutes and is under the supervision of a Tekoa staff person. The last resort is for parents to pick up the camper from camp.
We, as the Camp Tekoa Staff, do our best to include everyone in our camp community. We want campers to feel as comfortable as possible especially when it may be the first time away from their family. For some campers, it's still not easy to be away from home. We feel it is best for the parents to decide whether it's appropriate for the camper to be encouraged to stay at camp or go home and try another year.
At the same time, when a camper is extremely homesick, it's not only difficult for the camper, but also the camper's counselor and the community of the cabin. We hope that together we can find the best solution for everyone involved.