Q: Our youngest child, a twelve-year-old boy, is going to sleep-away camp for the first time this summer. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he is going against his will, but he definitely has many doubts and fears about the prospect. He’s not at all athletic, and I can’t imagine him being involved with “cheering” or “camp spirit.” He would rather read books. He likes animals, and I would guess he would prefer to spend time with lizards and salamanders rather than bunkmates, if he had a choice. He has one or two friends in school, but they are similar to him, so he usually doesn’t have to deal with any other types of boys. I often comment to my husband that our son’s “saving grace” is his great ability in learning; classmates respect him and ask him questions on schoolwork. By and large, the boys in his class have good middos, and he has generally not been teased by others, baruch Hashem. But he does not possess anything that might be considered a “commodity” in sleep-away camp.
He has a cousin his age (my brother’s son) going to the same camp, but I’m wary about asking for them to be put in the same bunk. His cousin has many more friends, and I’m afraid he’ll just ignore my son.
One of the main reasons he is going at all is that there is no day camp program available in our neighborhood for boys his age, and he doesn’t want to be a counselor-in-training. So day camp really is not an option.
How can I best set the groundwork for my son to have a successful camp experience?
A: Experienced adult staff members work with campers who are non-athletic and exhibit other talents and interests. If your son excels in learning, it is a definite plus, as learning goes on in sleep-away camp, too, for a number of hours a day. The ability to learn is something peers respect, both at home and in camp.
Perhaps having your son tutor a staff member’s younger child, or being involved in the camp’s Cocoa Club, can be a way to feel special in camp. He can help create rewards (a camp-related appreciated privilege) and be an assistant in making the program more interesting.
Be proactive. If your son excels in chess, for example, he should bring a chess set to camp, and not rely on one being there.
You can mention your son’s interest in animals (or any other hobbies) to his counselor in a casual manner after camp has begun. Call your son’s counselor a few days into the trip, stating that it’s his first sleep-away camp experience and you want to know how he is doing. You can then mention his hobbies and suggest ways to accentuate his talents. Initiating a discussion in advance may make your son be perceived as having “an issue.”
In relation to your nephew, it would be best to speak to your brother about how his son feels about bunking with his cousin. Your nephew need not know that you were privy to the results of this discussion and that you will use his response to make a decision about them being together in the same bunk. In fact, your son may not even want to be in the same bunk as his cousin!
I wouldn’t worry too much about teasing. If your son has barely been teased in class, in day camp, or by neighborhood friends, then he probably has better social skills than you realize. If bullying does become an issue, you can deal with it at that time.