Dealing With Homesickness at Camp Wabikon
May 19, 2017 by
Camp Q&A: Mari-Beth Crysler, director at Camp Wabikon
Q: How long have you been the director of Camp Wabikon?
Okay, that requires math and it’s Monday morning. [Laughs] Let’s go with 20 years.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your job?
Oh, that’s definitely living up in Temagami for the summer.
Q: What does it take to be a camp director/counsellor?
You need to be an empathetic person. You need to be an energetic person. You need to be mutli-talented, able to adapt to different situations, organized, very responsible and fun – just good old-fashioned fun.
Q: What is the best thing a parent or guardian can do to prepare their child for their first camp experience?
They need to stay positive. So, be excited about the experience and saying things like ‘you’re going to have such a fun time’ and even if the parent is nervous which is perfectly okay, don’t let that come across to the camper because if the camper knows that their parent is nervous, then it makes it more difficult for them not to be nervous. If it’s possible to go to an open house for the camp or to get together with some people who have already gone to the camp – sometimes, the directors can organize that – then that’s a great way to meet somebody who’s going to be there at the same time as you so when you get there, you know a couple of familiar faces. And many camps have pictures online that the new campers can take a look at just to get familiar with the site and the different kinds of activities that are there, so it doesn’t seem brand new when they arrive.
Q: How can a parent or guardian choose the right camp for their child?
Well, the parent knows the child the best. So, if they can focus on what the particular likes are of the child, the preferences, then that’s going to be the easiest way. You know your child. So, whatever your child’s top preferences are, I would stick to those and then when the child is at camp and is comfortable and happy doing those things, that’s when they’re going to be feeling confident enough to go outside of their comfort zone and try something new that might also be available at the camp.
Q: What is the right way to deal with homesickness?
Homesickness is absolutely natural and it would be weird if we didn’t have homesick campers. Of course you’re going to be homesick if you’re in a brand new situation and you’re surrounded by a place you haven’t been to before and people you don’t know. The best way is to just keep the camper involved in the schedule and make them feel comfortable in their environment. The worst thing, in my opinion, that you can do is allow the camper to talk to their parents because it only makes them more homesick. You have to try to promote them getting into the program and then they feel comfortable and then by the time the end of camp comes around, they’re camp sick and they don’t want to go home. They’re crying at the beginning because they want to go back home and they’re crying at the end because they don’t want to leave.
Q: What can children learn from a positive camp experience?
Definitely independence. Their self-confidence increases tremendously.
Q: What can camp staff do to prevent bullying and exclusion?
We have a week of training before the campers even get there. It’s called Pre-Camp and we pay particular attention to keeping an eye out and we train our staff on how to identify those kinds of situations and stop them before they even start.
Q: In your opinion, has the camp experience changed over the years and how?
We’ve brought in over the last number of years the concept of introductory weeks and a more flexible schedule for the length of the camper’s stay. Parents and families are very very busy so they need more flexibility because they’ve got multiple things going on in the summer. And some kids aren’t ready to come for three weeks right away so by offering them the chance to come for a week or two weeks, that’s a great length for them for their first time and then the next time they come, they decide to stay for the whole time. So, flexible session lengths would be the biggest change that I’ve seen.
Q: Is there a camper or an instance you remember that really exemplified the power and spirit of camp?
I believe this camper came to camp when she was about six years old and she was the quietest, most introverted camper that I had seen in a long time and didn’t say much of anything for her first summer there, loved it, came back, grew up with us. She was there from the youngest age all the way through and then she was a counsellor-in-training and then she was a staff member and then pretty much did every job available at camp – counsellor, section head, activity head, head of the waterfront department and then head of our whole program. She basically ran the camp with us. So, she’s now gone on to be a very successful Ph.D. student and we still keep in touch with her. I think she was there for about 18 years in total. Definitely, coming to camp helped her to be the person that she grew up to be. She obviously is a very capable, confident, creative person. That was obviously within her; it’s just that camp helped to bring that out of her. And she was just the epitome of what camp can do. It can take a very young, quiet child and help them grow into a confident, capable, successful young woman.