Information About Our Bedtime Rituals For New Parents And CampersJanuary 28, 2015
There may be fresh snow all over the East coast today, but the start of our summer camp in New Hampshire is only 150 days away! And as our June 27th start is approaching, the most common questions we are getting from new parents and campers are about bedtime. Is there a set bedtime at Kenwood and Evergreen? Am I allowed to read after lights out? What if I need extra time or attention from a counselor? During the winter and spring months we try to tackle a different aspect of life in our intentional NH community each week, and hopefully provide some insider information for parents and campers. This week’s subject is all about bedtime rituals.
Every night of our 7-week session we have a fun, exciting evening activity that starts at 7:30pm, and ends around 8:45pm. Evening activities include ceremonial campfires, slam dunk contests and home run derbies, costume dance nights, capture the flag games that include all of Kenwood or Evergreen, lip sync nights, Minute-to-Win-It game show nights, theatrical performances, and, of course, wrestling in over 1,000 pounds of Jell-O. The evenings are pretty incredible at our overnight camp.
After each camp’s evening activities are over, campers who want to see the Camp doctor, or need a medication before bedtime, stop by the infirmary (that’s what we call our health center). On the way back to their cabins campers get a final treat before preparing for bed: Milk and Cookies! Kenwood campers line up at the Dining Hall for theirs, while Evergreen campers stop off at the Evergreen Office on their way back to their lodges. And because we love our kids with food allergies all of our cookies are peanut and tree nut free, and we also always have gluten free, egg free, and dairy free cookies, too!
Then comes one of the most special parts of the entire K&E day. As parents ourselves, we understand that our campers come from wonderfully nurturing homes, where bedtime is seen as an opportunity for extra closeness and communication between parent and child. We know that it is vital that bedtime at our summer camp provides a similar dynamic, as it will help our campers feel more physically and emotionally secure while away from home. It will also give them a growth opportunity to learn to process their feelings without the aid of mom or dad.
During staff training we ask the two general counselors in each cabin to develop a set of rituals that will define evening life in their cabin. Some decide that after Milk & Cookies, the 8 campers and 2 counselors will sit together on the floor and play a board or card game. In some cabins the counselors play guitar and sing to help lull their campers. Others pick a book that they will read together every night of the summer. Counselors who grew up in our summer camp community often elect to tell classic K&E stories – tales of great adventure or silliness (and don’t worry – they know not to tell ghost stories). One of my favorite rituals from last summer was in one of our youngest boys’ cabins, where each member of the cabin took time to talk to the group about his favorite moment of the day, and something that he was looking forward to the following day. I also loved seeing Evergreen’s entire youngest age group last year cuddle together on the floor in their living room while their counselors prepared them for events planned for the following day.
In the midst of these impactful bedtime rituals, our counselors work on helping our campers gain independence while away from home for the summer. The cabins and lodges where our junior campers live are replete with charts and posters to help them remember their daily responsibilities. Counselors help them track how often they are showering and brushing their teeth, and work towards it becoming second nature to pick up belongings and place them in their laundry bag before climbing into bed. This is a major part of the social and emotional growth that comes from 7 weeks at an intentional summer camp.
We don’t actually have a set bedtime at Kenwood and Evergreen. If you are reading this and are about to be a first-time camper don’t start jumping up and down at the thought of pulling all-nighters! We don’t have a set bedtime because we have found that every night of the summer is a little different. Some nights you’re going to walk into the cabin ready to fall asleep immediately, and on others you’re going to need more time to relax your body and brain. So we ask that you are in your cabin by 8:50pm, in whatever you are going to wear to bed by 9:00, and in your bed by 9:15pm. This is typically around the time when our counselors start to turn off some of the bunk’s lights, and get into the quieter, more sleep-inducing aspects of their bunk rituals.
Before saying goodnight, we ask that our Junior Camp counselors do one more important thing for their campers. We ask that they stop by each bed and quietly ask the following question what don’t I already know about your day? Our counselors ask this because they know that many campers have important questions and ideas that they have only begun pondering in the final minutes of the day. Asking what don’t I know is very different than how was your day? It gives our campers the permission they might need to say “after an amazing day I’m suddenly missing my dog” or “I was talking so much during dinner that I forgot to eat enough, and now I’m really hungry” or “I’m nervous about something”. This question helps us ensure that every camper has a quality relationship with his/her counselors, which allows them to feel comfortable sharing whatever is on their mind before drifting off to sleep.
Occasionally, campers do require extra attention in these situations. That’s one of the many reasons why we always have 2 general counselors in a cabin with a maximum of 8 campers. We want to make sure that help and understanding from a caring counselor is only a request away! Typically, all that is needed is an extra few minutes of talking with that loving counselor, and then the camper is off to sleep. Oh, and if the camper says that he or she is still hungry their counselor is easily able to use their walky-talky to ask another counselor to bring down a yogurt or piece of fruit to tide them over until the morning.
The rest of the evening is like a great big sleepover party. Lots of campers quietly talk with their friends, and there’s a ton of joke telling and giggling, along with discussing the events of the day. Campers are welcome to read to help them fall asleep, and others like writing letters home or journaling. While we are an unplugged summer camp, campers are allowed to have basic mp3 players (no apps, no games, no videos, no connectivity of any sort). Many campers find that listening to music or books on tape help them relax and drift off to sleep. All of these are great strategies for calming down your mind and preparing to go to sleep in your cabin. And should a camper ever need a counselor after bedtime, there are two sitting just outside the entrance to their sleeping area keeping watch until it’s curfew for all counselors. They also regularly walk into the bunk throughout the evening to see if any camper needs a little TLC.
So this is how nighttime and bedtime works at our summer camp in New Hampshire. As a former Kenwood and Evergreen camper, I can tell you that some of my happiest memories of my entire childhood center around those nights in a bunk, hanging with my role model counselors and gabbing with my friends. Even now, as a director, one of my favorite things about our community is that I get to spend time with our boys and girls as they are settling in for the night. It’s such a peaceful, happy, quiet time in our community that I love so much.