Making Camp Connections
Q: Your advice last month touting the benefits of a camp experience for kids encouraged us to sign up our school-aged son and daughter. This will be a brand new experience for them, and we’d like to do everything we can to ensure that it’s a positive one. Do you have any suggestions for how we can help prepare them beyond just buying new clothes and packing their bags?
A: That’s a terrific question and one that reflects a great deal of care and insight. I’d suggest a key factor that will determine the success of your kids’ experience is the degree to which they make meaningful connections at camp. Children – just like adults – are designed for relationship, and the best way they can find a good and healthy friend at camp is to be one.
With that in mind, I encourage you to spend the next few weeks focusing on preparing your kids from the inside out. What I mean by this is to talk with them about and develop their “hearts” – the innermost workings of who they are as people. The heart has two competing impulses: one that moves toward goodness and selflessness – the other toward darkness, pride, and selfishness. This tension is present even in young kids. They not only experience, but understand it. It’s a conflict they see and feel in the movies they watch and the stories they read.
A number of ingredients make up a good and healthy heart and will contribute toward a successful week at camp: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, courage, self-control, compassion, humility, honesty, goodness, a positive attitude, and respect for oneself and others. As camp approaches, have the entire family adopt two or three of these qualities as your “words of the week” and then individually research their meaning. Afterward, come together and discuss what each of you has learned, and share your ideas on the many ways you can demonstrate these attributes.
You’ll find your efforts will be even more effective and take on greater meaning for everyone if you move things from the theoretical to the practical. Or, as my daughter loves to say, “Let’s do it!” For example, if one of your heart words for the week is “compassion,” help your kids identify someone at school, church, or in your neighborhood that may be going through a difficult time, and explore different things you could do to encourage and show kindness to them. Then work together as a team to pull it off. You can talk later about how showing compassion to someone made each of you feel, as well as what impact your act of kindness may have on the beneficiary and on their preparation for relationships at camp. This investment into nurturing your son’s and daughter’s hearts will not only cultivate character and empathy that will make for a memorable camp experience – but will, more importantly, prepare your children for selfless and successful lives rich in service and relationship.