One of the most memorable parts of camp are the friendships formed between campers. Many campers arrive at SOAR feeling anxious about not knowing anyone but leave with a bittersweet sadness as friends go their separate ways and return home. For some campers, social skills come easy. They are outgoing, make friends in any group, and have a high level of social intelligence. More often than not, this is not the case, which is why camp is such a precious time when it comes to friendships.
For campers who typically struggle to make friends, two weeks at camp is like a whole school year back at home! Campers are immersed into a new environment, with new people, and WITHOUT distractions, especially electronic devices. They are also surrounded by counselors who understand and who can help guide them through social interactions and how to form positive relationships. They are working together as a team, experiencing new adventures, conquering fears, and reaching goals! To put it simply, making friends at camp is usually easier for most kids. Our goal for each camper is that the friends they’ve made at camp will be a part of their life long after camp is over.
Here are a few things you can do to help your child keep up with friends they made at camp.
Encourage Your Camper to Reach Out
Your camper’s End of Course Packet includes contact information for all of the campers in their course. Hopefully your child has introduced you or told you about some of the friends they’ve made. If not, take some time to go over the contact sheet with them. This will likely spark memories of camp and help your child initiate reaching out to some of their friends.
Plan To Meet Up
You might be surprised to find that some of your child’s camp friends live within driving distance! Contact their parents and set up a time to meet. This is one of the best ways to maintain relationships during the school year and helps to keep campers looking forward to coming back to camp, this time with their friend!
Join Our Parent Group
Our Summer Camp Parent Group on Facebook consists of current and former parents of SOAR campers! While most campers have their own social accounts and will likely find one another after camp, parents can also connect to help initiate meet ups or to simply encourage their campers to reach out. If you haven’t already joined, you can do so here. It is a private group.
Hi Mom and Dad,
I miss you so much. Yesterday was kind of boring. We played games to get to know everyone in my cabin once everyone got here. There is a kid, Zach, that talks a lot, like never shuts up, and another, Kevin that has not said a single word. Last night I think he was even more home sick than me. Why are you making me come here again? Today we are doing the high ropes course, I am excited for that. Maybe I’ll start to make friends. Make sure that you give Sampson hugs for me. Tell Jack to stay out of my room!
Ps: Send me candy!
I did the high ropes course! I got to shoot Zach with a squirt gun as he was coming down the zipline. I don’t get along with him so it was fun to do. He is just too annoying for me. Last night Kevin and I stayed up outside the cabin together because he was crying he wanted to go home. He has a dog and an annoying brother too! We both like football but he is a Patriots fan. The counselor Jamie is really nice. He talked to us about being homesick. He even gets homesick as a grown up! Tomorrow we are starting our backpacking trip. I do not want to go hiking. Can you get me the new Call of Duty?
Backpacking was hard! We went up a really tall mountain carrying backpacks that had to of weighed 50lbs! We have a role each day. Today I was the chef. My other Counselor Kayla taught me how to light the back country stoves. We use white gas for them. Dad we should get one for our camping trips! I made mac and cheese with canned chicken for dinner. We had to have a veggie so I cut up broccoli and put it in it. Everyone loved it! I want to make it when I get home for everyone. Kevin keeps making fun of me. I told my counselors and they made him apologize but I don’t think he really wanted to. Everyone is so tired. I am kind of excited to sleep under a tarp though. Tomorrow we have to hike 6 miles!
Last night I fell asleep under the stars. There were so many! I got some bug bites but it was worth it. My counselors gave me some cream to put on them so they don’t itch too bad. We hiked 7 miles instead of 6 today. We got a little turned around and hiked a half mile out of the way before we noticed and turned back. It was okay though because we got to see an awesome waterfall. I was having a really hard time getting up a hill and was slowing everyone down. I felt bad but I just couldn’t hike any more. Kevin stayed back with me and helped carry some of my gear so I could get up the hill. His pack must have weighed 100lbs! I guess he isn’t as bad as I thought. We played Frisbee together after we got to the campsite. Tomorrow we are done backpacking! Thank GOD!
I went white water rafting today. The water was really cold. I was in a boat with Kevin, Zach, Tyler, and Kayla. Kayla was a good guide. She let us all try to guide and taught us how to steer. I got us stuck on a rock but it was fun trying to get off the rock. I fell in on Lesser Wesser, it was so much fun. As soon as I came up Kayla grabbed me and pulled me back in the raft.
Tonight we stayed at a campground called Appletree. I had to be Sherpa today so I had to wash all the pots and pans. They were so gross!
I was YODA today. I got to sit in the front of the van and tell the group what to do because I am the leader. We went to paintball. Kevin, Zach, and I teamed up against some kids from another group. It was fun to shoot them with paintballs. They don’t hurt as bad as I thought they would. We wore funny clothes from Goodwill to play. I can’t wait to show you pictures. Tomorrow we are going out to eat for our last night together. Yay! Real food! I can’t wait until I can get McDonalds and a soda. When you guys come to pick me up you can meet Kevin and Zach. We want to plan a trip to our house so we can hang out together.
Executive Function skills are mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and figure out how to complete multiple tasks. For individuals with ADHD, these skills are weak, or non-existent, and, as a result, impact the way they manage their daily activities. As may be the case with your child, many of our campers have difficulty with these skills. We believe that summer camp can help campers learn new ways of getting things done and feeling more successful, too.
The camp environment and staff provides a framework for modeling, mentoring, and teaching strategies for honing the campers’ Executive Functioning skills while they are participating in exciting, adventure-based activities. Many studies show that the best approaches to improving Executive Function skills are those that:
- involve children and teenagers keen interests, those that bring pride and happiness
- consider stresses in their lives and explore ways to resolve
- encourage to be active and in challenging exercise
- set up an environment of social acceptance and
- give chances to practice Executive Function skills
(Diamond and Lee, 2011).
Planning and Organizing for CAMP or “Figuring out What to Do and How”
At SOAR, campers are taught and shown ways for planning, organizing, getting things done, improving social interactions, and self-monitoring as they maneuver the various phases of the day. They are also given opportunities to practice these skills each day. A lot of planning and organizing is required to successfully complete each day’s activities.
- Setting goals to work on while at camp at the beginning of session
- Getting support from Instructors for working toward set goals
- Going over each day’s plans with the Instructors
- Learning and understanding the steps necessary to make the day’s activities happen
- Preparing gear for trips, including backpacks, duffle bags, mess kits, and more
- Keeping up with mess kits and keeping them washed and clean
- Coming up with a system for keeping clothes sorted and dry
- Learning steps for setting up tents and taking down tents
Responsibilities at CAMP or “Getting Things Done and Having Fun”
One of the hurdles for those lacking strong Executive Function skills is getting started with tasks and also in completing them. Some of the things that come into play for campers are just how interested they are in the activity, do they know how to go about getting it done, and overcoming feeling overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. A structured plan means each person has daily roles & responsibilities with meals, trip preparation, clean up, and more.
- Encouraging each other to get tasks completed
- Knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing when you need to offer help
- Working to be cooperative with the team schedule and plans
- Learning the value of taking the first step, or getting started
- Aiming for an attitude of “keep trying”
- Honing ways to make and be a friend
Self-Monitoring at CAMP or “How am I Doing”
Self-monitoring is a very effective practice for campers to use as they work toward improving daily habits, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning the practice of checking themselves for improvement is empowering as they begin to take ownership of their own set goals. End of the day discussions allow for campers to review their day and to reflect on successes and opportunities. Also, at the end of the camper’s session at SOAR, they take part in a review of their progress with their instructors and parents:
- Reviewing how things went for you and your group, revisiting positive things and reflecting on opportunities
- Thinking about activities and interactions that happened and how they may have been done well or may have been done differently
- Remembering and using tips from Instructors on good ways to get things done and then practicing those skills
- Using the support of Instructors on how to build friendships
- Reviewing with parents and Instructors the progress made on goals at camp
Helping campers learn and adopt changes in their daily behaviors and habits result in better outcomes with planning, completing tasks, keeping track of their belongings, and self-monitoring. They end their camp session feeling proud of all they have been able to accomplish while having a great time. Summer camp provides a structured, safe, and happy place for campers to hone their Executive Function skills in a light-hearted and fun-filled way.
Diamond, A, & Lee, K. (2011. Interventions shown to aid executive function development. Science, 333, 959-964.