Advice for Parents to Help Your Child be a “Happy Camper”

The Metropolis of Detroit Summer Camp (MDSC) has been in operation since 1952, and we have cared for thousands of campers over the years. Many came to MDSC, for the first time, when they were only 7 or 8 years old. Others were a bit older. For most of our campers, coming to MDSC was the first experience they had being away from home for a long period of time, without Mom and Dad around. A residential camp stay, whether at MDSC or any other camp, is often one of the most memorable personal growth experiences in a young person’s life.  Because we want every camper’s experience at MDSC to be a positive one, we would like to suggest the following “tips” to help your child be a “happy camper”.

First Time Considerations

If you are thinking about sending your child to MDSC for the first time, please consider their age and emotional maturity. Some 8 year olds are ready for camp, while others aren’t ready for camp until they’re 9 or 10. If your child brings up the idea to you first, then they’re probably ready. If you don’t know much about MDSC, sit down with your child and go through our camp website and looking at the picture galleries. You and your child should also talk to family member or friends who have attended MDSC, especially children their age who have been to our camp.  Make plans to have them attend the same week of camp with a relative or friend from church.  If you have any questions about MDSC, please call the camp to speak to our Camp Administrator or one of the Camp Directors.

Prior to Camp

Throughout the year prior to camp, it’s important to encourage your child’s independence as much as possible. Give them opportunity to experience some separations from you, such as sleeping at Yiayia & Papou’s house, or a friend’s house. Discuss what camp will be like when they are there, and what they’ll need to do on their own – changing clothes every day, taking showers, etc. Help them understand that they’ll be sharing sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities with up to 20 other boys or girls, which is a little different than what they are used to at home. Go over the daily camp schedule with them (on the Camper Programs tab on our website) so they’ll know what to expect each day.

Once you have registered your child for camp, and been accepted for your preferred week(s), go through the checklist of “What to Pack for Camp”.  Once you start packing for camp, involve your child so they are familiar with the items you’re placing in their suitcases. The more involved they are with the process of getting ready for camp, the more likely they will feel at ease when they arrive.

Avoiding Homesickness

Campers, at one time or another, may experience homesickness. It’s a very normal thing, and in most cases, the child gets over it in a very short period of time. But, there is a lot that you (as parents) can do to help your child avoid homesickness, and give them the ability to quickly cope if it does happen at camp.

The first thing to consider is how you are going to deal with “childsickness” while they’re away. Sending your child to MDSC may be the first time you’re without them for a week or two. But, this is one of many steps that your child will take toward full independence later in life and MDSC is one of the safest, most nurturing places to take these first steps.  If you are experiencing some nerves about sending your child to camp, its probably best to avoid expressing your anxiety to them. Its okay to say “I’m going to miss you, but I know you’ll have a great time”, but probably not a good idea to let them think you’ll be miserable without them.

If they express their concern to you about being homesick, acknowledge that its okay to miss home and family while they’re at camp, but continually encourage them that you know they’ll be fine. One thing that should always be avoided is “making a deal” with your child. Please DO NOT tell them that if they don’t like camp, you’ll come and pick them up. This sets your child up for failure and deprives them of a great opportunity to learn to cope with something new in life, and grow from the experience.

Some other ideas that you should consider are:

  • Make sure to pack a favorite stuffed animal, book, and/or a picture of your family.  A small icon, Orthodox Prayer Book or Bible may also be a good idea.
  • Include some paper, pen, and pre-addressed stamped envelopes so they can write letters home if they choose.  But, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive one, though – many of our campers get so caught up in the camp program and making new friends, they don’t ever have time to write you.  Believe it or not – that’s okay!!
  • Mail a letter to your child the day before you bring them to camp, so it arrives early in the week (it takes about 2-3 days when mailed from Detroit). You can also use BunkNotes to send one-way e-mails to your child while they’re at camp. Remember – keep your letter and BunkNotes upbeat!

When you arrive at camp, you will be checking in with the Camp Directors and Health Director, and you will meet your child’s counselors.  We encourage you to help them get set-up in their cabin and even take a walk around camp with them (strongly encouraged if it’s your first time) so you and they become comfortable with the surroundings. Once they’re settled, our recommendation is that you don’t linger around camp too long. Staying too long just delays your child’s transition to being at camp. Don’t worry – we’ve been taking care of kids for more than 60 years at MDSC, and they will be fine!

Keeping in Touch

While your child is at MDSC, you can stay in touch with your him/her in one of two ways:

  • Mail a letter – the old fashioned way, but allow 2-3 days for delivery. If your child is only staying a week, anything mailed from downstate after late Tuesday/early Wednesday will likely not arrive before you come and pick them up on Saturday. Sending letters if fine, but please do not send packages that include food or candy.
  • Use BunkNotes – you will receive information on BunkNotes when you get your acceptance email. BunkNotes is a company that allows you to send one-way e-mails to your child at camp. You simply go on BunkNotes (which can be accessed through the camp website’s homepage), set up an account and purchase credits. Each e-mail costs you one credit. All e-mails received in a calendar day for MDSC are bundled by BunkNotes, sent in an e-mail as an attachment, and e-mailed to the camp overnight. We print off the emails each day and hand them out at mail call. Please do not use the camp’s regular e-mail to send message to your child, because that e-mail address is reserved for camp business only.

Remember, when sending letters or e-mails to your child at camp, keep the message positive and upbeat. Its certainly okay to acknowledge you miss them, but its best to keep it encouraging.  Mention how you saw them having fun in one of the pictures online, or give them an update on the Tigers!  Keep the letters focused more on camp and less on what’s going on at home. Especially avoid writing about events they’re going to miss while at camp, going on too much about how much they’re missed or sharing bad news.  Its hard to believe, but one summerr, MDSC received a BunkNote telling the camper (at length) how much each individual in the family missed them, and then ended by telling the child that they had to put his dog to sleep. This is not the kind of e-mail that’s going to help them have a great week at camp!

MDSC does not allow two-way communication between campers and their families during the week – we encourage you to send letters or BunkNote e-mails. We would ask that you do not call to talk to them, or to ask us how they’re doing. From our experience, 99.99999% of our campers are having a great time and get over any minor homesickness or other concerns about coming to camp. If there are any issues, health or other, that arise when they are at camp, you will be contacted by the Camp Director or Health Director. Certainly, if there is a true emergency at home, please call and ask to speak to the Camp Director.

A Final Note

MDSC has been serving the youth of the Metropolis of Detroit for 3 generations now, and our overall return rate of campers is extremely high. We regularly see children who come to camp as Juniors, and return every year as campers and then eventually serve on staff, often coming 10-15 (or more) years straight.  Our college grads and young adults often call or email us telling us how badly they still wish they could find a week to come to camp.  We hear countless stories from our parents that all summer plans, including sports, vacations (even going to Greece!) have to planned around their children coming to MDSC.

With your assistance, coupled with the care and nurturing of our staff, we know your child will certainly be a “happy camper” at MDSC this summer and for years to come.