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Camp leaders ready for homesick Scouts

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
July 3, 2009
— Bob Cheek sat with a boy on a log overlooking the scenic, peaceful, nearly 200-acre camp.

It provided the perfect setting for the conversation they were about to have.


“We discussed the (camp) experiences he’d had and those that were to come later in the week,” said Cheek, director at Camp Indian Trails for the Glacier’s Edge Council Boy Scouts of America.


The quiet, one-on-one time was all it took to resolve this first-time camper’s homesickness, Cheek said.


“It took care of itself,’’ he added.


Kids getting homesick at camp “is more common than uncommon,” said Steve Orlovsky, council program director for the local Boy Scouts council.


Every week of eight-week summer camp, at least one or two boys of the more than 1,000 who attend get homesick, he said, speaking from 25 years of experience.


Camp leaders are prepared for what to expect and what to do when homesickness strikes. They attend a session before bringing their Scouts to camp with Verne Wright, Camp Indian Trails Boy Scout camp chaplain of 15 years.


“Usually, some of the camp counselors—especially the older ones—have experience with Scouts, so they have an idea about how to handle homesickness,’’ Wright said.


Still, Wright shares general tips that start with common sense information, such as telling camp leaders to share as many facts as possible with Scouts before camp about what to expect, routines, schedules, programs and campsites. He also stresses the importance of keeping campers busy and involved.


“In the evenings and in between activity periods, that’s when it starts showing,’’ Wright said of homesickness.


A homesick child initially complains vaguely about not feeling well. Next, the camper might complain about nausea before actually vomiting, he said. When that happens, camp leaders are told to have the camp health officer check the child.


“If something is physically wrong, they need to get parents involved,” Wright said.


Often, though, it’s merely homesickness.


Wright also recommends that potential campers visit the camp in the off-season.


“It helps the child become familiar with the camp atmosphere,” he said.


Camp leaders also should find out from parents as much as they can about the Scouts, Wright said.


Encouraging words from leaders can help campers build on what they do well at camp. It also works to buddy up a homesick camper so the camper has a pal, he said.


“Sometimes, a Scout will get a little discouraged if he is working on a merit badge that is too difficult. So finding a simpler badge to work on helps,’’ Wright said.


In some cases, Wright said it’s clear when a camper is homesick.


“They’ll say, I don’t like it here. This is different. I want to go home. Others will simply struggle with it for a while, go back and forth, try to make it through and then do.’’


Regardless, Wright said, sending a homesick child home must be “a collective decision between the leader, the Scout and the parents.”


Tips to deal with homesickness

-- Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year.


-- Involve your child in the process of choosing a camp.


-- Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves.


-- Reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other.


-- Send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp.


-- Don’t bribe.


-- Pack a personal item from home.


-- Avoid the temptation to take the child home early.


-- Talk candidly with the camp director to obtain his/her perspective on your child’s adjustment.


-- Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp.


--Source: American Camping Association

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