Transcript of our interview with Emilie, Parent
What's unique about the program at Camp Northway/Wendigo that made you want to register your daughter there?
I think part of what makes Northway really special is its size. It's very small compared to a lot of other camps. And, as a result, I think there's a real intimacy and bond that both the campers and staff are able to form together because there tends to be quite a bit of commingling of age groups just by virtue of the small size. The camper-to-staff ratio is also tiny: three kids are in a cabin with one counsellor.
The canoe trips, which are a big part of the program, have a one-to-one staff-to-camper ratio. And so not only does that as a parent bring a real sense of security and safety just knowing that your kid is going to be well-supervised, but it gives the children an opportunity to form really tight bonds with a small group while also integrating with the larger camp community.
What was your daughter's first impression of Camp Northway/Wendigo?
She was sold the minute she set foot on that peninsula. In fact, I drove her there the first year and expected potentially a difficult send-off and it was quite the opposite. She basically looked at me and said, “Okay, you can leave now.”
What does your daughter like the best about Camp Northway/Wendigo?
I think it's really the friendships. And actually those friendships played a huge role in getting her through the very difficult times that we've experienced with the pandemic. She stayed very connected with her camp friends. It was a challenging year, transitioning from middle school to high school with a pandemic. But I think what really kept her anchored was those friendships that were so long-standing.
Very few of her close friends live in the same city as she does, but she was still able to maintain a really deep sense of connectivity with those friends. I think they’re a really important source of support in normal times, but during a time when a lot of children were feeling very isolated, they were especially important.
Probably the biggest challenge she experienced was when COVID required camp to be cancelled in 2020. That would have been her seventh summer attending camp and it was really devastating. But I think that made this past summer all the more enriching, really remembering what it's like to be socially connected with people who care about you and that you care about a lot, too.
How did Camp Northway/Wendigo teach your daughter to be more socially courageous?
She's a relatively introverted child, and being in a setting that really just naturally fosters bonds and friendships by virtue of living together and playing together made her more confident socially, reinforcing that she has the capacity to easily make friends at camp. It's so much easier to make friends just because of the amount of time you spend together, the quality of the time that you have together, which is overwhelmingly fun time.
It’s really fostered her confidence when it comes to building relationships and maintaining them. I mean, seeing these kids, despite all the technology that they have available to them, sending each other letters in the off season. That’s been another way that she's been able to express herself.
How did Camp Northway/Wendigo teach your daughter to be more independent?
The very first summer that I picked her up at the end of camp, I could see a real transformation. It was her first really independent experience. She came back a more fully-formed person, having had a chance to explore her identity outside of her family. I noticed that the first year, and I remember my own parents saying that about me when I went off to camp—that I came back with a new sense of confidence and a sense that you can make your way through the world without always relying on your parents or your family.
What advice would you give parents who are hesitant about sending their children to overnight camp?
I think all children are going to feel anxious about the idea of being separated from their parents for the first time. I think you have to kind of know your kid. I think a lot of kids are ready at eight. Some kids might not be ready until nine or ten, but I don't think you can count on your child to explicitly tell you that they're ready because I don't think they can know that they're ready. It's very daunting.
My daughter went for the full three and a half week session the first time that she went to camp…. I knew that of my three children, this was the one who was the least likely to experience significant separation anxiety. But you still don't know and you're not there to comfort them. So that's where I think a lot of us as parents experience our own separation anxiety and put that onto our kids.
But also, having attended camp myself, I understood all of the tools that the camp staff have to support children who are feeling a little homesick in the early days and throughout their time at camp. But I don't think it's necessarily the case that just because you're homesick, you're not also having a good time. I think the more the children become integrated in the camp community and feel supported and feel safe, that a lot of that separation anxiety really does just dissipate very quickly.
What tips or suggestions did you give your daughter to get the most out of Camp Northway/Wendigo?
I think I just really encouraged her to participate as fully as she could. But also it’s an opportunity to unwind a little bit, so not to feel enormous pressure to be performing all the time or excelling all the time. If you're having an off day, to sit and read a book for a little bit or write a letter home. That’s a big coping skill, that if you're feeling sad or lonely, it’s a chance to write a letter home.
That has become something really special between us: being able to exchange letters. I've always made an effort to send some letters before my kids leave for camp so that they'll have something early on in their time. I also really encouraged her to make the most out of it and to be courageous about new experiences. I also encouraged her not to feel pressure to excel at everything and to focus more on the experience and less on accomplishments.
What would you tell other parents about the overall value of Camp Northway/Wendigo?
I just don't think it can be understated. I mean, just the ways in which these kids emerge with leadership skills, with a strong sense of independence and of themselves, and form a connection with nature that is increasingly difficult to experience, especially for children that live in cities.
I think for a lot of parents, we really see the value, especially for our teens, of disconnecting from social media, focusing instead on real relationships with people who are in front of you. That's an experience that's incredibly difficult to come by any other way, because as much as we try to put limits and boundaries on our children's use of media, that's always a constant source of struggle. My daughter became a much more prolific reader, for example, when she was at Camp Northway/Wendigo because that’s one of the ways you unwind when you don't have a screen to turn to.