Summer Smarts
4 things to tell your kids before they head back to camp
By Klein Aleardi

After a few years of lockdowns, masks, Zoom classes and other changes that turned the world upside down – kids are once again heading back to summer camp. And when they get there, they’ll be met with social learning, mental health counselors and more activities to fill their days than ever before.  

But before you pack those bagged lunches and put the iPads to rest, check out some things to review with your kids ahead of camp.  

1. Not everything will go your way – and that’s ok 

The beauty of camp is that it helps our young ones learn about the challenges they’ll encounter in the world outside the classroom and home. (Read: everything can’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time.) But learning these lessons doesn’t mean summer will be ruined. 

“There will be winning and losing, disagreements with friends, fear of failure and disappointments like not getting your favorite blue ice pop,” says Andy Pritikin, owner/director of Liberty Lake Day Camp. “It’s real life, in a structured, well-supervised setting where we turn stressors into growth opportunities.” 

These challenges also help kids step out of their comfort zone to try new things and find new hobbies. “The typical default setting for kids is to not leave their comfort zone, especially when they get up toward middle school, because they don’t want to look bad,” Pritikin says. “At camp, kids are given the opportunity to try new things, and that can make them more open to trying new things in life.”  

2. Say goodbye to electronics 

If your kids are like their peers, having a smart device in their hand feels all too natural. In a 2020 Pew Research Center study, more than one-third of parents with a child under 12 say their child began interacting with a smartphone before the age of 5. 

 “We are raising a generation of children who are the most connected ever because of smartphones, yet they’re the least connected in terms of real social connections,” says Pritikin.  

The pandemic exacerbated that gap even more with online classes and Zoom hangouts during lockdown, but many South Jersey camps have found a way to roll back the clock: leave the electronics at home. 

At camp, kids have to find other ways to entertain themselves, and without Siri or Google answering questions in an instant, they begin solving problems independently, thinking and reasoning on their own. “Camp is a step back in time where kids get to live and function socially the way humans did for thousands of years, up until about 12 years ago,” Pritikin says.

3. Camp isn’t one size fits all anymore 

Here’s some great news: When it comes to camp, you’ve got options. Want to spend your day running around the soccer field? Liberty Lake Day Camp lets you pick your weekly electives. Wish you could be by the beach every day? Katz JCC Margate’s Camp by the Sea offers field trips to the beach. Wonder what it would be like to learn about nature with a technological twist? Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge hosts a STEAM camp. 

“Our STEAM camps have our campers getting extra hands-on with experiments, art and more,” says Cedar Run Executive Director Michael O’Malley. “They learn what it means to be a scientist and how some experiments are trial and error. They also discover that not every experiment works.”

The days of heading to the campgrounds just to grab some S’mores and play a round of dodgeball are a thing of the past. Today’s camps give kids a chance to choose their own adventure on a daily basis. At Cedar Run, each grade level has several camp themes to choose from. “Having lots of themes keeps things fresh for campers from year to year as well. Campers are able to attend camp from ages 3-13 – and many do,” O’Malley says. 

4. Your mental health is important, and counselors are here to help  

While it’s been about 3 years since lockdown, many kids heading to summer camp are still dealing with mental health issues that were amplified by a global pandemic. It’s a fact that South Jersey camps have been learning to handle for the last few years. 

Liberty Lake, one of the few camps that remained open during the 2020 season, saw that their youngest campers – the pre-schoolers – were basically a year behind developmentally the next season. And the middle schoolers, teens and young adults were also suffering. 

“Everyone was super grateful to be here for the 2021 season and the overriding thing was that the kids had an amazing time, but it was the hardest summer ever,” says Pritikin. “It was like a box of chocolates. You didn’t know what you were going to get behavior-wise.” 

So they learned, as many South Jersey camps did, to help campers through their behavioral and mental issues. “Everybody’s gotta be a bit of a social worker, someone who really understands why a kid is behaving the way they’re behaving,” says Pritikin. “I told counselors, when you see a kid acting out, don’t just jump to conclusions. Don’t just tell them what they’re doing wrong. Have a conversation with them about it. And not in front of everybody. Talk to them and ask why.”



March 2023
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