Camp Cures: Beating Homesickness at Sleepaway Camp



Contributed by Camp Classen

In just a few months, according to America's leading camping professionals, more than 11 million kids will venture off to summer camp. Many of the children going will be doing so for their first time.  

The average age for first-time campers according to the American Camp Association is 10 years old. And while these bright-eyed newbies might be met with supportive camp counselors, friendly roommates and a plethora of fun, education, nature or adventure-based activities, 96 percent of them will be struck with feelings of homesickness.

"And that's a good thing," Executive Director of YMCA's Camp Classen Scott Hall said. "Homesickness is a sign that a child comes from a loving, supportive and nurturing family. What's not to miss?" 

The key to beating homesickness, Hall said, is what parents do before their child arrives at camp and what the child does after he or she arrives at camp. 

"It's all about preparation," Hall said.

Experts from the American Camp Association agree, stating parents who include their children in the camp planning process and who encourage their children to socialize early on have better luck beating the homesick blues on that first long extended period away from home. 

Once at camp, when homesickness strikes, the best cure is for children to keep themselves busy, Hall said.

"We have a no electronics policy," Hall said of Camp Classen. "So for many of these kids, their experience with us is their first experience without the distraction of their cell phone. They are exposed to so much more than their cell phones or iPads could provide.”

Local mom Ashley Herbert admitted she was a little nervous sending her son Cole to Camp Classen at first. 

"I had my reservations at first simply because being away from Cole for a week felt unnatural for me," she said.  "But I came to the realization that at some point, he would have to learn how to be away from home and I figured camp could be a part of the transitioning process."

Studies indicate that summer camp can help strengthen children's self-confidence and independence. Hall said that confidence can last a lifetime.

"The goal is to improve the children's confidence overall," Hall said. "When they've successfully been without mom and dad for a little while and know what they are capable of doing alone, going to college out of state or even just living in a new dorm room becomes a breeze." 

Kanakuk is another popular camp among Oklahoma City metro parents. The Missouri headquarters hosts camps up to four weeks long for youth of all ages. 

Executive Women's Director at Kanakuk Trish Helsel said a main objective of the Christian camp is to make the kids courageous, confident and Christ-loving leaders.

When it comes to homesickness, however, the campers at Kamp Kanakuk are no different than those at any other camp. 

"I've seen a few tears shed," Helsel said. "But our counselors make sure to remind the campers that their time away from home is temporary and that having fun while at camp will give them more fun stories to tell mom and dad later."

Activities at Kamp Kanakuk include playing traditional sports, fishing, mountain biking, cave exploration and kayaking. 

Both Kanakuk and Camp Classen include ending ceremonies where parents can pick up their children and watch as awards are given, stories are told and projects are displayed. 

"That's the best part," Herbert said. "The first camping trip was a little tough for both of us  but when I picked him up and he ran towards me smiling and ready to tell me everything he'd done all at once, I knew that sending him to camp was a good decision."

8 Tips for Parents:  Helping your child beat the homesick blues

Include your child in the planning process. Have your child describe the geographic location where they would like to go to camp and what kind of activities they would like to participate in. 

Visit the camp with your child prior to camp starting if possible so that your child can get used to what might otherwise be a foreign place. 

Talk it out. Tell your child that while they might get homesick, you believe they can get through the sad feelings if they keep themselves busy, talk to their counselors and try to make friends. Try to avoid spreading any feelings of sadness or anxiety you may be feeling over them going to camp. 

Get excited with your child. Talk about all the activities that they will experience during camp and ask them which ones they are looking forward to the most. 

Create stamped envelopes addressed to home so your child can send you letters once a week updating you on how they are doing. 

Write to your child once a week to let them know how proud of them you are. 

Help them pack. Have your child bring something with them that is comforting like a favorite toy or blanket. 

Consider allowing your child to get used to being away from home by having sleepovers with friends or attending day camps.

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