Creating a Happy Camper

For almost 60 years, Valaqua has been welcoming kids to our little corner of creation to grow in all sorts of directions.  Kids who spend the week with us grow in self-confidence, faith, and in community with one another.  We don’t do it alone though, and here are some tips and suggestions to help your child have a great week at summer camp.

First Time Considerations

The decision about when to send your child to camp for the first time is a challenging one.  Some kids are emotionally ready at 7 and others need to wait until they are nine or ten.  Take a bit of time and evaluate the emotional maturity of your child prior to registering them for camp.  Valaqua has age breakdowns for each of our camps, however, we know that as a parent, you know your child best and you are the best judge of when they are ready and are willing to flex our age guidelines to best accommodate your child.


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 Grandma and Grandpa’s house, having a sleepover at a friend’s.  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 5 other boys or girls, which is a little different than what they are used to at home.

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”. As you’re 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

Many campers 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, or give them the ability to quickly cope with it 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 camp may be the first time you’re without them for a week. But, this is one of many steps that your child will take toward full independence later in life. If you are experiencing some nerves about sending your child to camp, avoid expressing your anxiety to them. It’s 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 it’s 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 be avoided where possible is “making a deal” with your child. Telling your child that if they don’t like it you’ll come and pick them up sets your child up for failure and deprives them of a great opportunity to grow in independence.

When you arrive at camp, you will be checking in with the Camp Directors and you will meet your child’s counsellors. Help them get set-up in their cabin and 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 the transition to being at camp. Don’t worry – we’ve been taking care of kids for more than 55 years at Valaqua, and we will keep them safe!


Keeping in Touch

While your child is at Valaqua it is difficult to maintain direct communication.  Camp is a busy week and the campers are on the go for most of the day.  If you need to talk to your child, call the camp office and we will make arrangements.  If you are worried about how your child is doing, give us a call and we can check in with their counsellor, have a chat with them about how the week is going, and give you an update.

Calling home is a tricky one as for many kids the call to mom and dad triggers or worsens homesickness by reminding them that they miss you and love you.  We use our discretion with phone calls home, but do not “bar the door.”  If your child needs to talk to you, we will make sure they have the chance, but first we will encourage them to engage in everything we can offer at Valaqua and will try to help them focus on the fun that they are having here and now.


A Final Note

Valaqua has been helping kids Discover God in Creation for almost three generations and our return rate is very high.  The majority of our staff grow out of our leadership programs and our leadership programs are populated with our campers.  This means that we know our staff well before we hire them.

Our goal is to make sure that your child has a fun, safe week that is full of personal, spiritual, and relational growth.  The suggestions above help your child to be prepared and help us accomplish our goal of giving your child a great week at camp!

what summer camp should be and why your kids should go

Ah summer camp. If I had my druthers then any mention of summer camp would bring forth memories of sunsets by the water, music around the campfire and amazing over-the-top experiences. When camp is doing the things it should be doing, it creates an environment where kids have opportunities to grow in all sorts of directions. When camp is doing it right campers grow in self-confidence, they grow in their relationships with others, and they grow in independence.

According to the Alberta Camping Association, camps are defined as short term events in which four of the five following criteria are met:

Physically active experience
Natural environment experience
Community experience
Educational experience
Peer leadership experience

IMG_2826Physically active experience
When summer camp is doing the things it should be doing, then it is a physically active experience. Note this doesn’t say a physically intimidating experience or a physically competitive experience, just physically active. My background is in physical education and if there is one thing I can get on a soapbox and rant about it is how we compartmentalise physical activity. We break physical activity into a single component of our day: I will be physically active between 4:30 and 5 pm and then feel pretty good about sitting on the couch for the rest of the evening. At camp, being physically active is part of the landscape. There are scheduled components no doubt, but the components of your day are made of activity: You swim in the river and climb on the wall and run in the field and you do it all as beats of the clock. But it doesn’t end there, the moments between are in a landscape of physicality and reality. You walk where you need to go and you carry what you need for activities. There are games to play and Frisbees to throw and real life fun to be had. All of this changes our perspective of being physically active from that of “working out” to incorporate it into our lives. When running around is fun you never need to “train” for anything.

dsc06018Natural Environment Experience
Camps give us the opportunity to connect with the natural world. In Richard Louve’s fabulous book Last Child in the Woods he coins the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to help understand a new breed of sickness: a lack of connection with the natural world. The natural spaces are disappearing from our children’s world at an alarming rate. When camp is doing the things it should be doing it gives campers an amazing opportunity to experience creation first hand! I have been able to share thunderstorms, rainbows, owls, elk, moose, countless bugs, deer, and many other amazing experiences in creation with campers in my care. Many times I have had these experiences recounted to me years later when I meet the camper again. The natural world impacts our kids in ways we don’t yet fully understand but the impact is deep and camp provides one way to experience that world firsthand.

Community Experience
Camp provides a unique community for the campers who come here. A camp community has almost an island feel to it, being a community that is both away from the everyday and also somewhat isolated from the outside world. When campers come to Valaqua, they have an opportunity to start fresh. The sense of away-ness that is created here allows kids to leave the labels they carry in their everyday lives behind and to be the person they truly want to be.
The short term nature of camp means community must form fast and the intensity of a week at camp can often temper relationships to a harder edge than those formed in less intense environments. The incredibly strong community formed at camp is a palpable thing and a major goal of what camps aim to do in the week or more that your child is part of the program.

Educational experience
When a camp is doing what it should be doing it creates an educational experience for the campers who attend. The topic of education can be a broad one; anything from how to paddle a canoe to how to be a better neighbor, but the goal is the same: for the camper to leave the program with more resources and knowledge than they came with.
We also know that skills are not gained in a vacuum. The ability to do a J stroke in a canoe may not help in future career endeavors, but the confidence and belief in oneself gained from acquiring the skill most certainly will. When I see the “Aha!” moment on a camper’s face as they realize the acquisition of a new skill or new piece of knowledge, I recognize that I am seeing a step in the construction of a whole person.

Peer leadership experience
A peer leadership experience is an aspect of a successful summer camp program that is often viewed as a happy coincidence rather than a core piece of camp work. When camp is doing what it should be doing it gives young people the opportunity to be leaders.
Camp is one of the few places in this world where we put young people in charge. We train them up, give them the resources they need, and then hand over the keys. This is huge in the development of young leaders. Very few places in the world do we truly trust our young people to take on the challenge of leading and organizing anything. What I have learned in my years as a camp Director is that these young staff will surprise you! They have tools and depths of energy and resilience that we hadn’t even guessed at. Sure they make mistakes. Sure the judgement isn’t always 100%, but that is why mentors stand close at hand, ready to intervene in the big moments if necessary. The camp formula provides our young people opportunities to lead and there is no better training to do something then the act of doing it.

A physically active experience, a natural environment experience, a community experience, an educational experience, and a peer leadership experience. These are the cornerstones of Summer Camp. The order and priority may shift, but these 5 components are the keystones to a great camp experience!

that phone in your pocket

13070153-stack-of-cell-phones-isolated-on-white-stock-photo-old-cell-pileAh, the ubiquitous cell phone. If you are a person who pays attention to the world of summer camp, then you know that that little cell phone is a pretty hot topic. Camps have been wrestling with personal technology issues since the Walkman and with ipods and smartphones more prevalent than ever, it isn’t a topic that’s going away.

So, why do we try to keep the phones/ipods/personal technology away? Well, I’m glad you asked that question. Camp Valaqua strongly discourages technology at camp. We do this with our campers and also with our staff, including myself. I have become a smart phone junkie, but when I am at camp, my cell phone stays home. What I want to emphasize is that we don’t do this “just because.” Here are the reasons for our wish to stay as un-virtual as possible

Technology takes a person out of the moment
Camp is an intense, short term event and we want our campers and our staff to connect with every moment of it. Having music in your ears that only you can hear (ear buds) or communicating with someone far away via text or email keeps you from sharing in the music that is all around you and from communicating with people right in front of you. We strive to build community at camp and that can only happen when we are present to participate in the community

Cell phones and Ipods are expensive
Cell phones are a sign of status among young people. Having the latest and greatest smart phone or mp3 player bestows a certain status on the owner and can create barriers to relationship forming.
Modern phones are also very expensive and not particularly robust. Having a phone get smashed or go for a swim is not something that any of us want. The camp environment is notoriously hard on equipment and especially equipment as fragile as a cell phone or ipod.

It is an issue of trust
I am a parent myself and I am honored by the trust that so many parents show us each year when they choose Valaqua to drop off their kids. At Camp Valaqua, our number one priority is to ensure that your child is safe but we will not downplay the fears you have as a parent leaving your child in another’s care. We understand the wish to be able to communicate with your child and that wish may even be reciprocated by your son or daughter but it becomes an issue of trust on several levels:
First, you need to trust your son or daughter. One of the areas that we see kids grow in leaps and bounds at camp is self-confidence and this is because they are given the space to make their own decisions. We need to trust our kids enough to give them this room.
Secondly, we ask you to trust us. Camp Valaqua has been running summer camps for more than 50 years. Our staff members are carefully vetted and the majority of them have grown up in our programs. We know them well and we train them thoroughly. As a parent myself I am keenly aware of what I ask here and I know this is a challenge, but I want you to know that we have your child’s best interest at heart. Always.
Valaqua is not a “no phone calls home” camp. If phone calls to mom or dad will help your child be successful, we will happily make arrangements. Our goal is for your child to have a successful week here at camp and we will do everything in our power to make that happen.

We all need to unplug from time to time
Canadian children today average over 7.5 hours of screen time A DAY. This number staggered me. Our country is facing an epidemic of obesity that springs inarguably from our sedentary behaviour. At camp we teach kids that it is possible to have fun without a power outlet. One of the comments we here more and more from our campers and staff is a deep appreciation for the chance to unplug.
There is a spot down by the river at Valaqua where flowers grow. The rhythms of the spring and summer can be measured by the beats of the bursts of wildflowers. Wood lilies stand tall and bold in early July, the bluebells hang fragile and swing in the wind as the month moves on, Goats beard climbs high and bursts forth bright yellow in early August, Yarrow blooms white and then goldenrod comes out yellow as the summer winds its way into fall. We walk through this place every day in summer as we make our way to waterfront or to an overnighter spot. The peace I feel in this place helps to remind me the importance of unplugging in our hectic lives.

Your phone won’t work here
Also, cell phones don’t work too well here. Our corner of creation is remote enough that cell coverage is spotty at best and non-existent at worst.

And that is the long way of saying that we will remain a mostly technology free site at Valaqua. It’s not because we hate technology. It’s not because we are control freaks. It is to help make the camp experience a more profound one and to give the kids who come here the best possible chance to succeed.

What do you think? This is a hot issue. Have an opinion? Share it with us!