As a child, Andrea Tomkins attended an overnight camp — and loved it. She has fond memories of trying new outdoor activities like canoeing and hiking as well as meeting other kids and forging new friendships. But Tomkins also remembers feeling very homesick the first few days away. Although those feelings dissipated, the memory of those sad emotions remained strong. So, when Tomkins and her husband began considering overnight camp for their two daughters, Sarah, 10 and Emma, 12, they decided to have the younger one attend with a friend.
As Tomkins explains, Sarah was often timid in new situations and her parents felt that having a friend along would make her more comfortable. And that is exactly what happened. Last year, the sisters attended a week-long session at Camp Wabikon, a residential camp in Ontario, where Sarah was cabin mates with her friend Bella (who also happened to be the daughter of the camp's owner). Sarah quickly adjusted to her new environment, making new friends and trying out all the camp activities.
Mari-Beth Crysler, assistant director of Camp Wabikon, says first-time campers who attend with a friend often feel less stress and anxiety about being away from home. As paradoxical as it may seem, a particularly nervous or anxious child may actually bond better with strangers knowing that they have a close friend nearby. Crysler says she doesn’t worry that campers who arrive with a friend won't reach out to other campers because the first few days are spent doing activities that promote interaction (like scavenger hunts).
However, not all camp directors wholeheartedly embrace the idea. Many will gently encourage parents to send a camper alone and to have confidence that the child can and will thrive, despite some initial feelings of being scared or lonely.
Jacqui Raill is the director of Camp Ouareau, a bilingual all-girls camp in the Laurentians. When parents ask about attending camp with a friend, Raill will talk about the pros and cons. Camp Ouareau's language program — where campers spend alternate days speaking in French and English — makes it easy for two anglophone (or francophone) friends to isolate themselves from the group and avoid speaking the other language. While the camp does allow friends to share the same cabin, there are then restrictions on what else they can do together. So, if friends do activities together during the day, then they must sit at a different table for their meals. Raill says it's all about mixing up the groups so campers can make new friends and avoid developing cliques.
Raill also worries that sending along a friend “for comfort” makes it harder for girls to bond with the counsellors, who are there to offer support and serve as role models. Counsellors receive training about how to help campers adjust to being away from home (especially those who have never experienced this before). The counsellors also call parents of first-time campers to report on the child's early days away from home.
Both directors agree that the decision about attending camp with a friend is never clear-cut; much will depend on the child, the friend, ages, the length of stay, etc. The golden rule it to discuss, discuss, discuss, especially with the camp director. Having years of experience dealing with kids at camp, directors have much insight to share about what works — and what doesn't.
Ages: 6 to 17 (co-ed)
Location: Temagami, Ontario.
Dates: Session A – July 1 to July 21
Session B – July 22 to August 11
Session C – August 12 to August 22
Cost: Session A – $2,575, session B – $2,575 and session C – $1,365
For more information, call (416) 483-3172 or www.wabikon.com
Ages: 6 to 15 (girls only)
Location: St. Donat, Quebec
Dates: June 24 to August 15 (2 and 4-week sessions)
Cost: One month $3,435, two weeks $1,875, junior camp $555
For more information, call (819) 424-4145 or www.ouareau.com