The Importance of Summer Camp Home VisitsOctober 8, 2014
The Importance of Summer Camp Home Visits
Last night was a new experience for me. After more than a decade of home visits and tours with prospective campers, I did a home visit for one of my own children.
Unlike most camps, at Kenwood and Evergreen all new families have a private introductory meeting with one of our directors – either in a summer tour or in a face-to-face visit. It’s an essential component of the relationship building that we do here, and one of the reasons why we have such happy campers each summer.
During a home visit I typically spend the first half hour or so learning about the child, the family, and the outcomes that are they feel are most important for the camper’s first overnight camp experience. We discuss the big and the small issues, from fears and anxieties about being away from home for the first time, to how many stuffed animals you should bring (my recommendation, by the way, is no more than 2, and everyone under the age of 11 brings at least one).
I ask campers a lot of questions during home visits, and they are all designed to help me gain a more holistic understanding of who this interesting young person is. We talk about who their best friend at the moment is, and what they like to do when they have free time. If the child has siblings I ask about their relationship, and what it’s like when they argue. We talk about books that they are reading, what they do when they are angry, after school activities, recent vacations, and the meals that they eat on a regular basis. And, of course, we talk about food allergies.
At some point I bring out my laptop and together the family and I look at a collection of pictures that I think sum up the Kenwood and Evergreen experience. I explain the ins and outs of the first 48 hours of Camp, and the many rituals we have designed to help them make friendships immediately. We go over how our Structured Choice schedule works. We talk about Color War, Jell-O Wrestling, evening activities, Camp traditions, and how you let your counselor know if you are experiencing home sickness. And we talk about how incredible the opening day bus ride is (and why traveling with your new friends and counselors on a bus is vastly better than riding up to camp with your parents!).
The goal of the home visit is twofold: first, it is to make sure campers and parents truly understand what our brother-sister summer camp is all about; second, it is to develop a partnership with parents in helping to raise their children. The home visit creates a solid foundation for that partnership, and the entire experience of being a part of our summer camp in NH.
I leave every home visit energized by the idea that this interesting, cool, awesome young person may be joining our community. During the course of the home visit I learn what makes them unique and special, and what they have in common with their Kenwood and Evergreen peers. This means that I have volumes of important information about him or her that I will need to share with bunk counselors and unit leaders come June. What I learn in the home visit will help us as we try to place this child with the most compatible bunkmates and with two counselors who will nurture and cherish him or her. Most often I sit in my car afterwards and dictate detailed notes into a digital recorder, which I then transcribe when I return to the Camp office.
As with every home visit, the one that I conducted with my own child taught me a lot. I learned that while he is excited for camp, he is also nervous about sleeping on a top bunk. He is very excited about playing soccer and basketball, but isn’t thrilled about having swim instruction every weekday. He wanted me to know that he didn’t plan to be doing a lot of arts activities this summer, but also that he hopes to make a movie in film making and a ping pong table in the woodshop. After spending every summer of his life on our campus he still wasn’t 100% sure how our schedule worked, but after I explained it he thought it was the coolest way to choose activities. In terms of the 21st century skills that we teach at Kenwood and Evergreen, he hopes to become a better leader, and wants to learn how to be more independent. During the visit it also became clear that while my son knew much about camp, there were important information gaps that I needed to fill in for him. Every camper deserves this level of attention and intention.
Home visits with Kenwood and Evergreen can be very powerful. In our visits we strive to give each child and family the most accurate, honest expectations of what it means to be a part of our brother-sister camp community. Families who choose us deserve an experience that matches their expectations.