Sitting around the Shabbat table this past week, a friend asked me, “What are you most excited about for the summer?” As this is my seventh summer as Director of Camper Care and having spent more than 15 years on staff at Ramah California, I am pleased to share that I was not at a loss for words. I found myself talking about several of the new initiatives that our year-round team has been working on: we have tweaked the daily schedule to reflect a developmentally informed approach to programming, mealtimes, and bedtimes; we looked at the chadar ochel experience to ensure that it aligns with our goals for nurturance, sustenance, and community building; and we incorporated social-emotional learning modules into our staff training. I also talked about the exceptional team of yoatzot (parent liaisons) with whom I am privileged to work each summer and our excitement in welcoming new faces to this team. I shared that I can’t wait to see the physical growth and emotional maturity in our returning chanichim and to offer high-fives and a welcoming smile to our first-timers. Amidst all of this excitement, there is also a feeling of anticipatory anxiety that inevitably shows up at this time of year: Do I have all of the items I need for the summer? Did I remember to order clothing labels for my kids? What will the kayitz bring?
Sound familiar? Whether you are preparing to send a child to Ramah for the very first time or for the eighth, a combination of excitement, anticipation, and some worry are often in the air. It’s natural for children to wonder who their madrichim and bunkmates will be, if they will like camp food, whether they will get their first choice chug, if they will shed some tears when they miss home, or if they will enjoy sleeping out under the stars on their tiyul. It’s also natural for us, as parents, to have worries of our own about sending a child off to camp and trusting that all our hopes for this experience will come to fruition.
While there is no simple remedy to eliminate the pre-camp jitters, here are a few tips that may help.
For first time chanichim and chanichim in shetach tzrifim (3rd-6th grades):
- Provide a listening ear for kids to share what they’re excited about and what worries they may have
- Normalize and validate concerns and discuss potential solutions (i.e., three things you can do when you’re having trouble falling asleep, who you can talk to at camp if you’re having a conflict with a peer or if something is on your mind)
- Avoid sharing your own doubts or worries with your child
- Involve your child in setting aside items for camp, and in labeling and packing
- Review the new camper magazine for Gesher and Nitzanim chanichim which includes the daily schedule and sample menu
- Remember the incredible life skills that a camp experience provides: independence, grit, resilience, social skills, and strong Jewish identity development, to name a few
- Do not make any “pick-up early” deals with your child
- Fill your dance card while your child is away
- Keep your letters upbeat and simple. Here are a few creative ideas.
- Review our technology and flat package policies, so you are up to date
- Know who to reach out to on our team
For chanichim living in the shetach (7th-11th grades):
- Challenge them to explore a new skill or opportunity this kayitz (nagarut/wood-working, etgar band, frisbee golf, or perform in the machazemer/musical)
- Talk about expectations for good decision-making and discuss if there might be times when that is hard at camp
- Make a plan for school summer assignments so, if necessary, teens can set aside time for those at camp
- Talk about the experience of being unplugged. Is it a relief? What are the benefits? What might they miss without a cellphone or computer? You can review our tech policy here.
- Plant the seeds for what Jewish questions or rituals they want to learn more about and then follow-up with a letter asking how that exploration is going
- Review with them who their “go-to” people are at camp are should they need them
Once your children arrive at camp, you will receive an email with their bunk assignment, as well as the email and phone number for your child’s yoetz/et (parent liaison). Remember that bunking is a complex process that takes into account many variables with the ultimate goal of ensuring a great experience for all chanichim. If you have submitted a request, please trust that we have read it (we have) and there is no need to reach out to double-check. If we have a question, we will be sure to contact you.
During the summer, parent liaisons check email and voice-mail frequently and return parent inquiries within 24 hours. Please note that our yoatzim spend most of their time out in camp with chanichim and madrichim and are likely not in the office when you call, so please be sure to include the best times to reach you for a return call. For first time campers, a member of our camper care team will reach out to you within the first week of camp to let you know how your child is settling in. These calls take place over several days, so please do not be surprised if you hear from a friend that they received a call before you.
If you have any questions or concerns leading up to the summer, please feel free to reach out to me at (805) 457-1354 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the counting of the omer transitions into the countdown to camp, I wish you and your family a chag same’ach and a fun-filled pre-camp journey ripe with excitement and the occasional jitter or two.