The Lasting Effect of Camp Counselors on Campers
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Lauren Wexler, director of camps at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, agrees. “The best thing about camp is that parents aren’t there,” she says. “Encouragement from counselors is what gets kids to take risks. Parents can reinforce this at home with positive feedback, but they need to remember to step back a bit. Counselors are doing the basic things to keep kids safe. They are putting sunscreen on, they are making sure shoes are tied, they’re making sure that kids are well taken care of and safe. All parents have to do is encourage these relationships to form organically.”
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Wexler also says that it’s the laid-back nature of camp that really fosters a great relationship between counselors and campers. “In school, kids are held to certain expectations, it’s a results driven environment,” she says. “At camp it’s all about fun. No pressure, no results. In camp, all we are worrying about is socio-emotional development, having fun, personal growth, and independence. The rules are less rigid. If a camper doesn’t love soccer but loves drawing I’ll tell them, ‘Let’s draw for a few minutes and then when you’re ready to play soccer we can play soccer.’ We really focus on what kids are good at and use that to make camp a fun experience.”
Bringing that Camp Feeling Home
The obvious question many parents ask is: How do we bring that feeling home? The truth is, you might not be able to, and that’s okay. “There are things we cannot do for our children, no matter how much we might want to,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D., the author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow. “In order to successfully accomplish these tasks, to grow in the ways they need to grow, children have to do it on their own, and usually away from their parents, sometimes overnight, sometimes for days or weeks or even months.”
“Children love to learn, but they get tired of being taught by adults,” Dr. Thompson says. “Children want to learn from older children, and, at a camp that means older campers, CITs (counselors in training), and camp counselors. They want to live with them, emulate them, absorb them. In our age-segregated society, camp is the only place in America where an 11-year-old can get the sustained attention of a 19-year-old. In return for the attention of these ‘older children,’ campers will make sacrifices. They will follow all kinds of rules and adhere to all kinds of rituals that they would likely fight at home.”
If you’re at all anxious about sending your children to camp, rest assured that they will probably grow leaps and bounds by the end of the summer. And in this case, it will have had almost nothing to do with you, Mom and Dad. Thank their counselors.
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