What do you get when you put nine kids and three young adults into a room for 21 days with no computers, cell phones, or video games? Well, in the best circumstance, something pretty awesome: a whole bunch of new, lasting friendships!
In my experience, the single biggest worry children have in going to camp for the first time is “will people like me?” They are going away from home and mixing it up with children from all over the US and, possibly, even other countries. Let’s face it, it’s a big deal! We’ve found that speed at which campers build friendships is directly related to their feelings of comfort at and enjoyment in camp.
So, how do you go about building a lasting friendship at camp? Here are a couple of ideas campers should follow:
- Be Kind. I know it sounds funny and probably too simple but it works! Going into a new situation, the best way to show you are open and interested in building friendships is to treat others as you would want to be treated. For 99.9% of us, that means a smiling face, a kind word, and being included.
- Be Yourself. Sure, you can go off to camp make up a new ‘you.’ However, I’ve found it easier and more successful for kids to be simply themselves. You’ll have more than enough time for everyone to get to know and appreciate who you are!
- Be Present. The idea is to be truly at camp, engaged in what the bunk or group is doing, and not sitting on the sidelines or with your mind wandering elsewhere. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you’ll have doing the most random, goofy things at camp. Speaking of fun….
- Have Fun! The more fun you have with the kids around you, the more likely you are to building lasting friendships. Notice I said “with.” Enjoying a laugh at someone else’s expense is never a good way to make a friend. Remember idea #1!
There are a few other important factors for building friendships at camp that parents should ask about:
- The Counselors. How does the camp interview, hire, and train their staff. When you speak to families currently attending the camp (and you should), ask them about their child’s experience with the staff. These young men and women will have a tremendous effect on the campers’ ability to build friendships.
- The Program Day. Being together all day, every day can be tough on friendships, even new ones. Through experience, we’ve found a day where campers get to spread out away from their bunk from time to time provides a healthy mix of new and known experiences. This leads to more stories, more excitement, and more interesting interactions.
- Atmosphere. Is the camp, well, campy? Do they sing goofy songs, create time for unstructured (but supervised) fun, instill a joie d’ vivre for everyone?
While this list is not exhaustive, it does touch on the more important aspects of building friendships at camp. It’s something we work hard on at Weequahic and can’t wait to do it again next summer!
Cole Kelly, Camp Director