In the last few years, we have made a special effort to make sure that our newest campers know that they are welcome and valued.
Coming to camp for the first time can be a little intimidating at first. It takes some time to learn new songs. The schedule is unfamiliar, as is the names of everything. For example, we do not have a Dining Hall. Instead, we have the Fillin’ Station. The office is Home Plate. The camp store is Kneeman Markus. We end each day with Torchlight, which is held in the Forum (girls) or the Coliseum (boys).
Add to all of that the fact that the faces are new as well and you have a very unusual experience.
The good news is that we are excited to find ways to make our new campers feel part of our family. In the past day, we have done a whole host of things:
- We have provided activities that are fun and engaging.
- We asked all the new campers to stand during our first torchlight and gave them a huge hand. We also let them know that everyone was confused their first day at camp.
- They participated in several cabin gatherings (the nightly ritual, setting rules, etc). During these, our counselors make sure that every camper gets a chance to share and participate.
- Susie Ma’am and I invited all the first year campers to our house for cookies and milk (with alternatives for campers with gluten or dairy allergies). During these meetings – one for the girls and one for the boys – we answered questions and had a few returning campers talk about what helped them during their first summer.
- While the new campers were in our house, their cabinmates were all brainstorming ways to assure that their new friends feel included in all activities. We want all returning campers to remember how they felt during their first summer at camp and then encourage them to reach out to our newest campers.
We even got a bonus from the weather. For the first time in almost a decade, it rained on the first day of camp. Actually, it only rained for half of the morning, so we only had to cancel the first two activity periods. This cancelation was actually a blessing. It provided the counselors some wonderful unstructured time to bond with their campers. During sessions without any rain, we often schedule “rain outs” to break up the weeks and give cabins extra time together. Today, we were given just the right amount of “off time” to help the cabins develop good dynamics.
Here my favorite moment from the cookie and milk gathering:
Susie Ma’am – “We have treats for everyone. Please let us know if you have any allergies like dairy or gluten.”
Boy camper, “I think I might be allergic to gluten.”
Susie Ma’am, “So you cannot have cookies?”
Camper, after brief but thoughtful pause, “Nope,I’m good. I think my DAD is allergic to gluten!” [Note: we checked, he does not have a gluten allergy and he did enjoy his chocolate chip cookie.]
Tonight we had enjoyed “Green Acres”, a camp-wide run-around game. During this odd activity, counselors paint themselves up as animals and the campers get to chase and find them. Some animals are runners (like horses and chickens) while others are hiding animals (like owls and hippos). Oddly enough, last year we had a hippo hiding in a tree. I was confused given that 1) hippos are typically NOT barn animals and 2) they rarely inhabit trees. But who am I to argue with a hiding hippo?
Susie Ma’am and I are delighted with the first couple of days of camp. Spirits are high. We hear laughter wherever we go. And our new campers are all settling in for a great 2-3 weeks!