Both teachers and parents worry about homesickness when children head off to school camp. In our experience, the majority of new campers don’t experience serious homesickness. They are having too much fun! There may be a few tears while settling in, but prolonged homesickness is rare.
Having said that, it is certainly true that children of all ages can get homesick and it pays to be prepared. Here are our top tips for preventing and managing homesickness.
Address Anxieties Well Before Camp Starts
Children are more likely to feel homesick if they arrive at camp full of pent up anxiety. For many children just the idea of sleeping away from home is daunting, especially if it’s their first camp.
We suggest that you take steps to familiarise children with the camp, either by visiting the website or the actual campground in advance. Take time in class to talk about what feels scary or worrying about camp. Remind parents that they too should be preparing their child for camp.
For more on this subject, check out our 6 Tips for Preventing School Camp Anxiety.
Orient Children at the Start of Camp
No matter how old you are it can be unsettling not knowing where you will eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. So make sure that your class has a thorough tour of the camp facilities on arrival.
Particularly with younger children, take care to explain not just where, but when and how daily activities will take place. For example, when touring the dining hall explain what meals will be eaten there and whether or not seating is pre-arranged.
Ask the Camp Concierge to help with orientation and to ensure that children are introduced to all the key staff up front.
Have a Night Noises Talk on the First Night
Remember that some children have never spent much time outdoors, especially at night. It can be a good idea to sit down with your class on the first night and talk about the night noises they can expect.
Ask them the noises they think they might hear and get them to recreate those sounds. When they can’t think of anymore, tell them about noises that might not be so obvious, such as other children sneaking out to the bathroom or possums rustling in the leaves.
Keep Children Busy Having Fun
The single most effective thing you can do for children feeling homesick is to distract them with fun and games. Work with your Camp Concierge to arrange a schedule that keeps children engaged throughout the day and evening.
Make sure that all children are occupied and involved. Be on the alert for a homesick or unhappy child and take special care to make sure they are included. If you know that a child is struggling with homesickness alert your Camp Concierge and activities team so they can make sure the child stays engaged.
Consider a Buddy System
Particularly for younger children a “camp buddy” system can help to overcome homesickness. Explain to children that they are responsible for helping their buddy to feel at home throughout the camp and discuss as a group how a good buddies should behave. Make sure children are aware that they should alert staff when their buddy is experiencing real difficulties.
Normalise the Feelings
If you do become aware that a child is struggling with homesickness, let the child know it’s okay to miss home and that almost everyone does at some point. Homesickness can be aggravated by feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy. Reassuring a child that their feelings are perfectly normal deescalates the situation and makes it easier to engage the child in a fun distraction.
Allow Children to Stay in Touch with Home
When away from home, children may fear that they will be forgotten. We certainly don’t advocate widespread use of smart phones at camp, but it’s a good idea to ensure that children feel some sense of remaining in touch. This may take the form of an allotted time for goodnight calls, or perhaps a time set aside to write and send postcards home.
The Coffs Coast Adventure Centre team have been working with children of all ages for many years. Feel free to discuss homesickness and any other issues with your Camp Concierge either before or during your School Camp. We are here to help!