Summer Camp 2006: Off To Camp! The fun, the packing … the fear of homesickness


Your child leaves for camp in just a few weeks.Veteran or first-timer, rituals are an important part of the getting-ready process. When mine leave for camp, one has to choose a special meal one night, and the other on another night.Though their camp has a bus, we drove the first year, and it has been so ever since.

Most camps send a shopping list which can be filled at any number of locations.Lester’s, which specializes in children’s clothing, has locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island, and their sales help is specially trained to fill camp orders.Toby Luken, who has been running the camp department at the Lester’s on the Upper East Side for three years, advises setting aside at least two hours for a camp appointment.The stores have towels, sheets, flashlights, autograph pillows and, this year, personalized cork boards, to help fill camp lists.

Stocking up on camp items adds to the excitement.But what do you do if your child is worried about going away? According to Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., in an article for CAMP, a publication of the American Camp Association (ACA), homesickness is normal. “In study after study, researchers found that 95 percent of boys and girls who were spending at least two weeks at overnight camp felt some degree of homesickness. Children at day camp may also feel pangs of homesickness, but less frequently,” advises Dr. Thurber.

The good news is that homesickness is typically mild, and dealing with such feelings builds confidence. “Overcoming a bout of homesickness and enjoying time away from home nurtures children’s independence and prepares them for the future. The fact that second-year campers are usually less homesick than first-year campers is evidence of this powerful growth,” Dr. Thurber points out.

He also advises parents to make the positive point: If there’s something about home children miss, that means there’s something about home they love — and that’s a wonderful thing. “Sometimes just knowing that what they feel is a reflection of love makes campers feel much better.”

Dr. Thurber offers these tips for positive camp preparation:

—Make camp decisions together.

—Arrange lots of practice time away from home.

—Share your optimism, not your anxiety.

—Never ever make a pick-up deal.

And if a homesick letter arrives, he advises parents to pass on the following “Anti-Homesickness Strategies”:

—Stay busy. Doing a fun, physical activity nearly always reduces homesickness intensity.

—Stay positive. Remembering all the cool stuff you can do at camp keeps the focus on fun, not on home.

—Stay in touch. Writing letters, looking at a photo from home, or holding a memento from home can be very comforting.

—Stay social. Making new friends is a perfect antidote to bothersome homesickness. Talking to the staff at camp is also reassuring.

—Stay focused. Remember that you’re not at camp forever, just a few weeks. Bringing a calendar to camp helps you be clear about the length of your stay.

—Stay confident. Anti-homesickness strategies take some time to work. Kids who stick with their strategies for five or six days almost always feel better.

“Homesickness,” Dr. Thurber adds, “is part of normal development. Our job should be to coach children through the experience, not to avoid the topic altogether.”