It’s no secret that building social skills is a crucial part of child development, and one of the most natural ways to gain those skills is by making new camp friends.
Diverse by design, Camp Friendship is a place where kids and teens can be their truest selves. The unique summer camp experience gives campers the opportunity to interact with others in a way that increases their self-esteem and overall sense of belonging.
Year after year, we see campers old and new make friendships that last a lifetime, and it’s no wonder why! From the first day of camp to the last, there are lots of opportunities to connect with others. It would be impossible to describe the many, many ways campers bond with one another, but here are some of the ways your child can expect to make friends this summer.
Setting campers up for success
We want campers to stretch their social muscles and explore new relationships on their own terms. One way we support this personal growth is through our Camper Profile, which parents can complete for the Camp Friendship Directors to share with their child’s counselor prior to the first day of camp.
The Camper Profile gives us a better understanding of your child by addressing questions about their emotional readiness, strengths, hopes for camp, and more. Our counselors use this information to connect with your camper so that they feel supported while building connections with their peers.
Campers often spend weeks leading up to camp wondering about who their bunkmates will be. At Camp Friendship, cabins are sorted by age, and we do take bunkmate requests into account. We often get bunkmate requests from campers who made new friends at camp and want to be in a cabin with them the following summer!
Many of our counselors were once campers, too. They’re familiar with the confusing mix of first-year nerves and excitement, as well as what it feels like to look at a group of campers and wonder how to spark those new friendships.
While counselors understand that it’s their responsibility to facilitate bonding, they also see that it’s important to give campers space to build genuine connections. Kids aren’t going to be best friends with everyone, and that’s okay!
Our counselors are taught multiple strategies to facilitate connections between campers and to identify why someone may be initially struggling to form connections. They will help campers by:
One of the best ways to make friends at camp is to bond over shared interests. Whether it’s favorite movies, animals, or hobbies, there are endless conversations to be had once you find out what you have in common with someone. Counselors know it can be hard to ask someone outright what their interests are, so through fun games and silly conversation starters, your camper is sure to learn all about their cabinmates and find someone with a shared interest.
Bonding over shared experiences
It’s a camp thing, you wouldn’t get it—but our campers do! There’s a strong bond formed by people who share unique experiences. Experiences like running from a Powder Fairy, having a Moo-Off after a tied game of Gaga Ball, or singing the Friendship Song at the campfire are all things that only other Camp Friendship campers would understand. After campers get settled in their cabin, counselors begin facilitating those shared experiences right away.
Acknowledging our differences
With campers and counselors from all over the world, Camp Friendship provides a unique opportunity for campers to meet friends outside of their normal bubble. Our counselors know that meeting someone from outside their neighborhood, and especially another country, can feel intimidating for most campers. They also know the best way to overcome those feelings is by acknowledging them! Appreciating the ways in which we are all different is one of the best ways to build long-lasting connections.
A note on technology
We recognize that in today’s technology-dominated world, kids may feel more comfortable behind a screen. Our counselors foster a safe place to land for campers who are stepping out of their technological comfort zones by acknowledging the bravery required for new situations.
In counselor training, we identify how the lack of access to phones and social media might place campers in a completely foreign social situation. Every counselor at Camp Friendship is trained on how to acknowledge and overcome this barrier for more fun, fulfilling camp experiences.
Our returning campers are excited about the opportunity to guide new campers through these situations and are quick to offer a helping hand. Every one of our returning campers remembers how intimidating it can be in this new environment. Whether they’re introducing newbies to other veteran campers or helping them read the camp map, our camper community can always rely on one another.
Breaking the ice
Gone are the days of dreaded “say your name and a fun fact about yourself” introductions. Instead, our counselors are armed with tons of engaging ice breakers to get old and new campers interacting with one another.
In the camp world, we think the best ice breakers get people up and moving to inspire quick, shared experiences. The sillier, the better! While it’s impossible to list all of the different games played at camp, a few popular ones come to mind…
Campers choose a movie character and attend a party. The activity at this party? To guess who else is there! This game is a creative way for campers to start conversations while pretending to be someone else.
I Wanna Have a Party
To start the game, a camper will stand in the middle of a circle and shout out one of their interests. Next, every camper and counselor who shares that interest will run into the circle and cheer. This is a low-stress way to learn about fellow campers without having to ask too many questions.
Every camper pairs up for a game of rock, paper, scissors. The loser of each game becomes their opponent’s biggest fan as they move through the crowd playing everyone tournament-style until there is one winner. While this game doesn’t give campers any new information about their peers, it can cut the tension in a situation where everyone is a little nervous. Plus, it’s an easy way to start learning everyone’s names!
Throughout the winter, we work to enhance our lesson plans so that every camp activity is different each year. Even campers returning for their fifth summer can expect engaging material and the chance to connect with new camp friends.
Staying in touch
The end of each session is a bittersweet time as campers prepare to return home and say goodbye to their friends. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stay in touch. Senior campers will often connect via social media while junior campers will exchange emails or home addresses to become pen pals.
The good news: there’s always next summer to look forward to! Most campers choose the same sessions every summer to see their group of camp friends. It’s not strange to see tight-knit groups of senior campers who have been coming to Camp Friendship together since they were in the Junior Village.
When a large group is in their last year of camp, it can often feel like they are a graduating class. For our returning staff, we know these groups well and have seen them grow up throughout the summers. These groups will often become counselors-in-training (CITs) and even counselors together.
Campers sometimes remark that they can be their truest self at camp. By taking time away from social media and cultural norms at school, kids can fully express themselves and build genuine connections with others. A summer at Camp Friendship gives children the space to truly express themselves, resulting in lifelong friendships.