The Language of Letters: A summer communication guide for families

Letters are a love language here at camp, and with our campers’ penpals assigned and so many letters written and sent already, I’m thinking more than ever about the language of letter-writing during the summer.

With hand-written letters as our families’ main portal into their campers’ summer, the writing and reading of them is a more important experience, and more nuanced, than many of us realize.

Read on for a comprehensive guide to communicating with your camper through snail mail this summer, including science-backed recommendations and the do’s and don’t’s of letters.

returning campers share photos with their 2023 letters written to their new penpals!

Receiving a sad or homesick letter

Dr. Tracy Brenner, “The Camp Counselor”, shared something in a recent webinar with the Maine Camp Experience that has stuck with me since. She put emotions throughout camp into perspective for attendees by having us consider the following: how many emotions do you experience in a day, even hour by hour? How about minute by minute? Now stretch that across three weeks or an entire summer. Our campers, staff, and families are all individually and communally experiencing this wide array of thoughts and feelings all throughout the season.

What does this mean for our campers’ letters?

Each letter your camper sends is a snapshot in time and emotion – not just a snapshot, but one of a moment that happened days prior (which feels more like worlds away at camp) by the time that letter arrives in your mailbox. We also need to recognize that along that spectrum of daily emotions, among the good and even the neutral, there are also many which are tough feelings. Working through these emotions are a function and benefit of camp and communal living – not a fault nor error. And here’s the good thing: homesickness is normal and typically mild. In a study of 329 campers, Dr. Thurber reported that about 83% of campers reported feeling homesick on at least one day of camp.

So, if and when you receive a letter with some tougher feelings, you can:

  • take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is natural, okay, and expected
  • ground yourself – take care of your own emotions before writing a response, and call us if you need help in that process
  • reply with encouragement and celebration of their resilience, appreciation for communicating their feelings, and highlighting the good in their letter
  • take it into perspective – was this letter written at a time that was situationally difficult, like their first night away from you, a time when they experienced disappointment, etc.?
  • offer a topic change or a shift in perspective in your response
  • if you have concerns about something serious communicated in your child’s letter, email their Head of Cabin (HOC) or give us a call

How often to write your camper

It is likely clear to our camp families that there is a level of ‘too few’ letters for our campers to receive. Getting no letters while at camp, especially as a new or younger camper, can make children feel anxious about home and their family’s well-being, and can cause feelings of being left out when seeing their bunkmates receive mail.

How many of us also realize that there is a such thing as ‘too many’ letters?

Hear us out – receiving letters daily, especially multiple per day, can potentially turn into an emotional crutch for campers, and make it more challenging for them to truly disconnect and fully experience camp and engage in our community. This can jeopardize some of the biggest benefits of camp: learning to self-regulate, find their own place in a larger community, and practice resilience while being ‘away’. Trust us that your camper will have no shortage of trusted adults in their camp community, and we want to encourage campers to communicate with their counselors, HOCs, and directors when those big feelings come along.

To help your camper feel just connected enough, here are two quick tips:

  • consider sending a letter a few days before camp starts for them to receive on the first full day of camp with encouraging words
  • depending on their age, send your camper to Runoia with a healthy number of pre-addressed and stamped envelopes to write home

What to write in a letter

  • Help your child process those tough emotions with phrases like:
    • “that sounds really tough – I’m so impressed with you for working through that and telling me about it.”
    • “your feelings are normal, and I promise you everyone is feeling the same way or has before.”
    • “you sound ____ (sad/homesick/disappointed/etc.), have you told a counselor or adult about it?”
    • “what have you tried when you feel ____ that has helped you feel better?”
    • “I know if you work through this, you will have so much fun and be more confident coming back next year.”
    • “I am confident you can do this – I believe in you.”
    • “give yourself some more time – the days will start to fly by.”
  • Once you’ve acknowledged your camper’s feelings at the beginning of your letter, move on to asking questions about camp to help her reach a better headspace by the end of your letter. Help your child ground herself when they write their next letter by asking specific questions, like:
    • “what are your counselors’ names?”
    • “who are your roommates, and what are they like?”
    • “what is your favorite thing you’ve done at camp so far?”
    • “what is one thing you’re looking forward to this week?”
    • “what’s one activity you’ve tried and loved?”
    • “what’s one thing you accomplished this week?”
    • “how have you been a good friend to another camper?”
  • Talk with your camper about some go-to coping skills that work for them before leaving for camp, then help remind them of them. This will be unique to each child, but might look like:
    • “the next time you feel that way, tell a trusted adult at camp.”
    • “stay busy – what book are you reading right now?”
    • “how can you relax when camp feels a little crazy?”
    • “enjoy your rest hour today – slow down and write in your journal or make a bracelet.”

What not to write in a letter

If you’ve read our family handbook, you know that we stress just how important it is to never make ‘the pick-up deal’ prior to camp or in a letter. It can be hard to not know exactly how your child is feeling at all times, and certainly even tougher to get an emotional letter. Our instinct is to save the day, but when we resist that urge, we’re encouraging resilience and resourcefulness in our children – one of the main benefits of camp. Here’s a quick list of what to avoid when writing a letter home:

  • avoid writing back immediately if your camper’s letter has heightened your own emotions – let yourself regulate before sitting down to reply
  • don’t write about how much you miss your camper or the family fun she’s missing out on while at camp
  • don’t write about sad family news – if it’s big news, call camp and we’ll create a communication plan together
  • don’t promise anything – promises to pick your child up or for them to call home are not promises you can keep, and only give your child false hope and prevent them from managing their own emotions

There you have it – the language of letters, the Runoia way. There is no perfect formula to letter-writing, and each camper is different, but if you follow these guidelines, you will be supporting your camper to work through their tough emotions, self-regulate, and get the most they can from their short few weeks at Camp Runoia.

And in between each letter you write and receive, remind yourself that there are countless smiles, giggles, and skills gained – so many, your camper can’t fit them all in one letter. Check our photos on your dashboard every few days, keep an eye to our social media and blogs, watch your email for our newsletters – you might catch an amazing experience that she forgot to mention in that snapshot moment of missing home.

And don’t forget that also between each letter, your camper is loved, cared for, and encouraged by our staff, directors, and her community at Runoia!



Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at camp: a summary of Runoia DAC’s 2024 action steps

Summer camp is best when it can be enjoyed by all. The ACA agrees that intentional work in diversity, equity, and inclusion at camp is vital – here’s what Runoia’s DAC is doing:

Camp is a special place in many people’s hearts – a place where friendships and confidence are built, and lifelong memories created – and is one of those things that is best enjoyed in good company and shared with others. Overnight camp, however, has not always historically included everyone – barriers to entry can include financial costs, transportation limits, and lack of information. Once campers do make it to camp, they can face other barriers that keep them from returning: a lack of that sense of belonging, a camp staff that don’t look like them or work to include them, and more. Runoia believes that intentional efforts towards justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) are essential to expand the positive impact of summers of camp magic to include everyone we can, and to be sure that those camp experiences are equally accessible, fun, and safe regardless of identity.

In line with this belief, Camp Runoia has embarked on a dedicated journey with its Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC), established in 2020 by Director Emerita Pam Cobb Heuberger, to champion justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within our community. The DAC’s mission is: “Intentionally collaborating to craft relevant DEIB standards, practices, and outcomes for Camp Runoia – including hate-bias reporting, inclusive staff hiring and training practices, partnership with POC experts in the field, and educational materials and signage at camp – while supporting Runoia with tangible committee efforts and actions.”

The DAC meets monthly from October – May each year to reflect and build on the previous summer. Although originally established from three campers’ encouragement of Runoia to share a stance on Black Lives Matter, the DAC’s discussion of DEI encapsulates all dimensions of diversity: race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, health and ability status, religious beliefs, ethnicity and national origin, and more.

Now that the DAC has adjourned for the summer, we’re excited to share the action steps the DAC has taken or are currently in progress for the 2024 season:

  1. Review and Sharing of DEI Statement: The DAC meticulously reviewed Camp Runoia’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statement, ensuring it accurately reflects camp’s commitment to fostering an inclusive community.
  2. Expansion of CRAO Campership Funds: Recognizing the importance of financial accessibility, the DAC expanded CRAO campership funds to encompass more agencies, including Level Ground – an organization that specifically supports local Maine campers. The DAC also created a separate fund for everyone to contribute to – no matter if they have $5 or $500+ to give – that provides CRAO supported campers with the ‘extras’ of camp, like a Crazy Creek chair, HydroFlask water bottle, and a bracelet making kit. These are the little things that we believe can make a camper feel like they belong.
  3. Additions to the Camp Library: Each summer, the DAC works to expand Runoia’s camp library to review and supplement our current inventory. These additions fulfill different literary categories including diverse authors, representation in characters, and more. Before the summer begins, Runoia puts our order in for new books from Black-owned bookstores like Mahogany Books and women-owned bookstores like Tombolo.
  4. Translation of Morning Community Saying: Embracing the heritage of the local indigenous community, the DAC facilitated the translation of the morning community saying into Wabenaki and will be posting signage displaying the translated saying in the Lodge.
  5. Hate/Bias Report Forms: Each year, the DAC reviews and edits our Hate/Bias report forms and system to ensure that they are serving their intended purpose of providing campers and staff an avenue to report incidents related to identity that happen at camp. These report forms have been posted accessibly around camp, are available in anonymous formats, and are reviewed externally each year.
  6. Staff Training: The DAC consulted and helped form comprehensive training sessions for staff. A major change made in 2024 is the decision to weave DEI concepts and values throughout the whole of training and to use this as a lens for other existing trainings. Runoia has previously worked with amazing external resources for staff training like Strength Perspective and OAAARs.

In the world of New England camping, Runoia is committed to pushing open doors for campers and staff each summer and continuing to improve on the accessibility of an unforgettable camp experience. The DAC is excited to see all that Runoia’s campers and staff accomplish in 2024, and look forward to reflecting on the summer together in October.

With love,

the Diversity Advisory Committee of Camp Runoia

  • Asha Wills, MBA Candidate MIT Sloan School of Business
  • Colleen O’Malley, Assistant Director, Camp Runoia
  • Pam Cobb Heuberger, MBA, Director Emerita, Camp Runoia
  • Claire Williamson, Nonprofit Arts Thought Leader and Educator
  • Erin Lasher, Social Worker Aurora, CO Public Schools
  • Kendall Wilson, Partner at Holland & Knight LLP
  • Em Friedman, Student Rep, Vassar College
  • Emma Owings, MPH, Associate Project Manager at Osher Center for Integrative Medicine
  • Zipporah Hommel, Associate at Bolton St-Johns, Public Policy
  • Nick Teich, PhD, LCSW, Executive Coach, Fairwinds Consulting

‘Insider Tips’ for first-time campers from Runoia’s returning families

In this week’s blog, we’re tapping in our greatest resource – CR’s returning families and campers – to provide their ‘insider tips’ for our first-time campers this summer.

Coming to overnight camp for the first time is an amazing, exciting, and overwhelming experience. Everything is new, and our first-year campers and families go through a quick learning process from their first phone call, to reading through our family handbook and newsletters, to their pre-camp check-in call, and finally to drop-off day. We do everything we can to prepare our first-time families for this new experience, but nothing can compare to getting all of the insider and unspoken tips and tricks straight from those who have ‘been there, done that!’

So we took to Instagram to ask our families:

“What’s one thing you wish you packed your first year OR isn’t on the packing list, but you consider a must-have at camp?” – here’s what campers and parents had to share:

  • Extras for the cabin and your space:
    • “Fairy light, fans, and photos” to decorate your bunk and make it your own
    • “A sleeping pad” to make bedtime a little more comfy and cozy
    • “A mirror, alarm clock, a light, a fan” for your bedside
    • “A camera” – our campers love digital cameras or polaroid cameras – so you can hang up your pictures right away!
    • A 4-summer parent shared that they pack “a surprise gift in her bag with a note from us”

  • The ‘must-have’ clothes and accessories:
    • “Costumes/spirit gear!”, “Face paint and temporary tattoos”, and “Something special for July 4th” (for our first-session campers)
      • pro-tip: first-time campers will pick their team in 2024, and will be a Bee or an Ellie for the rest of their Runoia days! Ellies don silver spirit gear, while the Bees sport indigo
    • “A Crazy Creek for sure!”
    • “Don’t forget your rainboots!”

Then, we asked: “What would you say to a first-time camper or parent who is feeling nervous about camp?”

  • Our campers shared their insights:
    • “It’s okay and normal to be nervous!”
    • “You forget you were even nervous at all by the time you wake up the first morning!”
    • “It’s the safest place ever!! And making friends is a breeze, they last a lifetime too”
    • “You will find people that feel like family and you can write so many letters!”
    • “Don’t worry! Everyone at camp is so, so nice”
    • “Even 20 years later, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life.”
    • “It’s so very amazing”
    • “You will forget about your family in no time so have fun!”
    • “You’re about to have the best years of your life”
  • Our campers’ trusted adults shared their thoughts, too:
    • “Camp goes by so fast so don’t be afraid to be away from your kid/parent”
    • “It’s amazing and the kids adjust very quickly.”

Lastly, we asked folks to share their best tips for when they’re feeling homesick at camp:

    • Go to ‘your place’ at camp: “I go to the barn!”
    • “Find something to do or someone to talk to – don’t just sit in sadness”
    • “Talk to your friends and counselors”
    • “You’ll miss camp when you’re home so enjoy it while you’re there”
    • “It’s ok to cry! Write lots of letters home”
    • Distract yourself – “don’t think of home too much and go have fun with your friends!”
    • “I think – what would you be doing at home that’s more fun than what you’re doing here?!”
    • “Look at the photos you pinned up”

The best thing about Runoia is our community. It’s kind, tight-knit, and full of so many campers and staff who are ready and excited to help you. If you look for helpers at CR, you’ll find them around every corner – special thanks to the helpers who gave amazing tips for first-time campers this summer!

See you soon in Harmonyland,


Runoia Reads: a reading list for MLK day

Runoia reads – for fun, to grow, to learn, to challenge perspectives, and to place ourselves in the shoes of others.

Reading is a major component of the Runoia lifestyle – with unstructured free-time, an amazing library, and group reading time in cabins before bed, we are sure to make it a priority every day that we can! It serves as a time to unwind from the tiring and busy camp day, and to escape to alternate worlds.

In the past few years, our Diversity Advisory Committee has worked to diversify our library with books that fall under the following categories: Black representation, Black history, gender fluidity, South Asian representation, Asian-American representation, Latinx representation, Indigenous representation, Jewish representation, LGBTQ+ representation, and protagonists with disabilities. From DAC member Claire Williamson’s book list to our 2023 selections that we stocked our library with this past summer, Runoia is happy to offer more and more voices and represent more of our campers with each passing year.

In honor of MLK day next week, and in celebration and commemoration of Dr. King’s life and work and upcoming Black History Month, we encourage our campers, family, staff, and friends to incorporate more books with Black voices, history, and experiences into their reading lists.

This week we are sharing recommendations from our reading list, with many books you can find in the Runoia library! If you find one that catches your eye, consider ordering from a Black-owned bookstore local to you. Runoia reads, and we hope you join us!

Black Representation
A is for All the Things You Are: A Joyful ABC Book by Anna Forgerson Hindley
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
A Visit to Grandad: An African ABC by Sade Fedipe
Big Hair, Don’t Care by Crystal Swain-Bates
Black is Brown is Tan By Arnold Adoff
Change Sings by Amanda Gorman (Youth Poet Laureate)

I am Enough by Grace Byers
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
The Water Princess by Susan Verde
Waiting in the Wings by Debbie Allen

Black History
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
How I Met Lewis Howard Lattimer by Ramon Robinson and Brandon Freeny
Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Malcolm Little by Ilyasah Shabazz
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

Graphic Novels
March by John Lewis
New Kid by Jerry Craft


We are so grateful for the work of our Diversity Advisory Committee – which meets monthly to continually improve the Runoia experience through a DEIB lens. The Diversity Advisory Committee of the CRAO is continuing great work with library additions, hate/bias reporting systems, staff hiring and training process to include DEI based aspects of interviewing and training staff, addressing current events and how they relate to running camp and being a camper or staff member at camp and more.

Runoia Wrapped: 2023 in Numbers

At the end of every year, TikTok buzzes with a variety of creative trends to reflect on the prior year. This year was no exception – the app has been infiltrated with countless videos of reflections on 2023. Of course we’re hopping on trend to bring you our version – Runoia wrapped – a view into our 2023 in numbers.

It feels a bit odd to be reflecting on the 2023 season in January, as we have really been in 2024 mode since August and even before – filling camper spaces, hiring 2024 staff, and coming up with ideas for the best summer yet. Yet in the camp world, we live “10 for 2” and so much of our best moments of each year are packed into just those two months. And for so many of our campers, you can shorten that to a very concentrated 3-week period.

So our reflection of 2023 is really of 8 weeks of 52 – a mere 15% of the calendar year. The remaining 85% is full of work for some, school for others, time with ‘non-camp friends’ (but if we’re truly lucky, with camp friends too) and family. But for me, and many others, the 8 weeks represents far beyond 15% of my best memories and favorite moments of each year.

Here are some of our accomplishments of 2023 in numbers:

  • 100% of campers reported that they made a new friend
  • 98% of campers reported that they tried something new
  • 83 of our campers experienced their first ever Runoia summer
  • Our teams fought hard to earn a collective 2,344 points for the Bees and the Ellies
  • 28 of the highest-possible program awards were achieved
  • Our campers hiked a combined 308 miles while on Katahdin trips
  • We celebrated 21 campers’ birthdays with them during the summer
  • 250 campers and 90+ staff made a combined 340+ summers of a lifetime experienced

We absolutely cannot wait to see what 2024 has in store for us!



Feeling Camp Magic at Home – blankets, butter chicken, and congo bars

Whenever the calendar switches from one year to the next, our excitement for camp explodes (even though we’ve been preparing for the next summer since the last) and we know a lot of our camp families and hopeful campers feel the same way.

Living ‘10 for 2‘ – that is, waiting through those 10 months of ‘real life’ for the 2 months of ‘camp life’ – is typical for the Runoia community. The year-round team is the biggest example of this: we spend all year hiring the best staff, talking to amazing new families, and planning the best summer ever. When summer finally comes, it can feel like it was over in a flash – and so we reset our sights on the next summer on and the cycle repeats.

We understand more than anyone that it can be hard to feel camp-sick when we’re home the rest of the year, and that summer can feel further away than ever before. Some of our seasoned campers and staff may be feeling particularly antsy, and some of our soon-to-be first year campers may be feeling a little bit more nervous as summer starts to come into view.

Luckily, feeling camp magic at home is fully possible with a little effort. One of the hardest tasks for us, our campers, and our staff is explaining the camp experience to ‘outsiders’ – it’s something you kind of just have to be there for yourself. But we can share some of the pieces of the camp puzzle with our families and friends by making a little magic happen at home.

Here are some sure-fire ways to make some Runoia magic at home, get your campers excited for the summer, and share the experience with your family and friends:


  • Cozy up with your Runoia gear
    • A 5-year blanket makes the perfect cozy reminder of camp!
    • Haven’t earned a 5-year blanket quite yet? Our TCS store has other cozy options, like:
      • sweatshirts and sweatpants
      • pajamas
      • fuzzy shorts
      • warm winter hats
  • Share Camp Runoia songs
    • Ask your camper to share some Runoia songs with you, and teach you the words!
    • Listen to some of our classic songs on our website

  • Look at our historic logs together
    • Has your camper told you that Runoia’s 118 summers are well documented in logs? A lot of them are online! Read through some of the coolest versions in our history here

Feeling camp magic is possible any time of year, because of the community, skills, memories, and life-long friendship made over the summer.

Luckily, these things last far beyond just one summer at camp!

Gratitude for Camp

The holiday season always has us reflecting on the previous summer, looking forward to the next, and pausing to feel gratitude for camp and our community – the campers, staff, families, and alumni that make each summer so magical.

You’ve heard and seen us mention ‘the gift of camp’ time and time again – not just this season, but for years now! That’s because we truly view the camp experience as a gift – when our alumni reflect on their own camp experience, it’s common to hear shares of gratitude for whoever made camp a possibility for them. When we make the camp experience possible for a child, as the CRAO does for so many campers through our campership program, we’re gifting more than just 3 weeks of fun and sunshine. We’re gifting life-long friends, an opportunity for growth, hidden passions discovered, confidence, resilience, and so much more. 

But hey – you don’t have to take our word for it! We took to Instagram to ask: “What is something Camp Runoia has given you that you’re grateful for?”

So many members of our community – current campers, staff, alumni, and families alike openly shared their best take-aways from camp.

There was no shortage of incredible answers – we’d love to share just a few of our favorites with you.

Camp gave me…

“Beautiful memories!”

“Confidence to be my own person”


“My friends that I now consider family and all the amazing memories – I’m so thankful”

“My best friend! And opportunities to try things I never imagined I would.”

“Friends who I maybe never see, but that I have for a lifetime”

“A child who is secure to be away from home.”


“New experiences with new friends!”


“I mended with my twin at camp – we’re besties now and talk regularly!”

“My best friends in the whole world!”

“Horseback riding <3”


“Amazing memories”

“The experiences of a lifetime and some of the best friends!”

“My oldest and most lasting friends.”

… just to name a few. Thank you to our community members who shared their own gratitude for camp – we certainly see a theme, there – friendship!



The Gift of Camp

When my mom went back to work after years of staying home with my sister and I, she says one of the first things she prioritized saving up for was to send us to summer camp. I’m lucky to barely remember a time before camp was a part of my life – I spent seven summers growing up at camp and will always consider it a gift that I am tremendously grateful for. Camp gave my sister and I life-long friends, leadership development, practical skills, and a sense of community that we otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.

Hanukkah began yesterday evening, and Christmas is well on its way – as we all know from the songs playing everywhere we go. This season of giving, family, and community has our entire team reflecting on the gifts we experience year-round at Runoia:

  • The donations made to the CRAO that pass on the gift of camp to campers who otherwise would not have the opportunity
  • The countless new families we get to meet and welcome to our community each year
  • The effort our Diversity Advisory Committee (DAC) puts in to making camp an accessible and inclusive experience
  • The immeasurable laughter and smiles our campers inspire each summer
  • A loving and supportive alumni community
  • Watching our staff community grow over the year and connect over staff training

… just to name a few!

Runoia believes strongly in the impact of camp on our children, staff, and families and will always propose that it is the greatest gift we can give. The lives of so many in our community across the past 117 summers have been changed for good by the camp experience. It’s a gift that keeps on giving – each summer brings something new: new lessons learned, new friendships made, new skills gained. Even for those who have been here for 10, 15, even 28 years!

But you don’t have to take our word for it – take our families’ word for it! The gift of camp is evident in these parents testimonials from 2023:

“I know my kids are in great hands at Runoia. I have total confidence in the staff leadership to create an environment for my kids to explore, discover, make friends + have fun while doing everything possible to keep them safe. I love that my kids try new activities at camp + are encouraged to do a range of fun stuff. I LOVE how much support Alex gives to parents. She lifted my heart. That’s worth every penny! (THANK YOU!)”

“From the camper perspective, she loved almost all her activities, she had a blast on the Acadia trip, she made wonderful friends, loved horseback riding.”

“She has been transformed! She is more independent and brave. She loved being able to select her own activities, and use her free time how she saw fit.”

“[We love the] growth over the years; the friendships, the traditions, counselors, and increased confidence from being independent and learning new skills.”

“[We love] the friendships my daughter develops at camp and her chance to step outside her comfort zone.”

If you have a child or a grandchild in your life who could benefit from experiencing camp, consider giving the ultimate gift this season!

If you’d like to pay it forward instead, and contribute to providing this experience through our campership program, consider making a donation to the CRAO today. See the way that your donations impact our campership recipients in our testimonials.

No matter what role you play in our Runoia community, your involvement is as big a gift as camp is!



How to Choose a Camp: questions to ask Directors in your search

As we round the corner into what feels like the back half of fall, many families are, possibly for the first time, searching for and hoping to choose a camp for their kid(s). Choosing a camp requires placing a lot of trust into camp professionals to care for your child and to provide a dream experience – but that trust doesn’t need to be blind. At Runoia, it is our goal to help campers find their best fit camp. We are always thrilled when that happens to be Runoia, but each camp is entirely unique from the next. It’s important to know what’s important to you (and your child,) ask the right questions, and pursue that experience. After countless parent phone calls and Zooms, here are the top things we suggest parents and guardians think about when choosing a camp, and some helpful questions to ask a camp director when looking:

Laser-focused or well-rounded?

The label ‘camp’ can mean anything from a soccer day camp to a sleep-away camp with dozens of activities. Are you hoping that your child focuses on building one particular skill – sailing, riding, a team sport, etc. – or do you hope that they will broaden their horizons, try new things, and gain skills in multiple activities in one summer?

Runoia falls into the latter category – with 30+ activity choices and exceptional programs in multiple areas like our complete waterfront, on-campus riding program, trips, and more! Here are some questions you can ask a camp director:

  • How many activities do you offer at camp?
  • What would you say are your biggest programs?
  • How do you offer skill progression in different activities?

Pre-planned or elective?

This is an important question to ask, especially after deciding on the prior! Once you know how many and what kind of activities a camp offers, it’s important to also know how much of a camper’s schedule is in their own control. If you are leaning towards a camp that specializes in just a handful of activities, you may also be looking for a structured camp that sets campers’ schedules for them. Runoia’s culture is one of choice and individual expression – our campers choose their own schedules in 2-day and 3-day blocks at camp. Our campers choose their schedules at camp for each block at a time, so they can pursue a new-found passion, change their minds, or be a completely different person from one block to the next! Here are some great questions to ask a camp director to get a sense of their structure:

  • Do campers have full, partial, or no control over their schedule and activity choices?
  • Do campers do activities with their cabin group or are classes mixed?
  • Do campers choose their schedules before arriving or at camp?
  • Do you offer any special-focus programs for campers to enroll in?

Small community or big population?

There are certainly benefits to each different camp population size, from a trip program with just a handful of staff and campers, to communities with hundreds of staff members and thousands of campers in one summer! When choosing a camp, ask yourself and your child whether they would prefer a tight-knit community – one where everyone knows one another and friendships span all ages – or a large community with the opportunity to meet hundreds of others? Runoia is a community like the former; our director team knows our campers’ names and each are involved in all aspects of the community on a day-to-day basis. Here are some questions to ask a director about their community:

  • What is your community size in each session?
  • How many campers and staff are in each cabin?
  • What is your overall staff to camper ratio?
  • Are your senior-level staff and directors involved in the daily community?

Community, Care, Culture, and Connection

It can be a challenge to earnestly understand the culture and sense of community at a camp just from looking at a website or social media. While we hope that our values shine through even virtually, this is one of the top reasons for having a conversation with a director. Hearing the belief of the value of camp and its impact on campers shine through a director’s voice on the phone can truly make the difference. Runoia’s culture is one that is kind and inclusive and intentionally built through our alumni all the way down to our youngest campers. Here are some questions to ask to get a good sense of the community, care for children, culture, and sense of connection at a potential camp:

  • How would you describe the ‘typical camper’ at your camp – what kids do well, and what does a successful summer look like for your typical camper?
  • How do you build community year-round and integrate new campers into your standing community?
  • Do you have an involved community of alumni?
  • How would you describe the culture of your camp? Is it competitive? Is it kind, inclusive, and welcoming?


As a camp entering its 117th consecutive season, we’re no stranger to tradition – when your camp has been standing since 1907, you pick up a few along the way! We try to strike our best balance between tradition and progression – honoring our foundations while moving forward. Here are some great questions to ask on tradition:


  • What traditions are important to your camp?
  • Does your camp partake in any intra or inter-camp competitions?
  • Do you have something like ‘color wars’?
  • Do you ever reevaluate traditions with a DEI lens?

An immersed experience, or connection to the ‘real world?’

We believe that camp poses a unique opportunity to ‘unplug’ to connect to nature, others, and ourselves. Therefore, Runoia offers a truly classic, immersed camp experience for its campers and staff. Technology is a no-go at Runoia, and we keep it old-school with letter-writing. Runoia also communicates with parents throughout the week through multiple modalities. We find that our system of communication really helps our campers make the most of their time at camp, connect to others, and fight off feelings of homesickness. Each camp is different, however, and it’s important to know what level of communication you expect from your ideal camp. Ask these questions:

  • Are phone calls allowed at camp?
  • Can you describe how mail works at your camp?
  • Do you have a system of regular communication for updates from the leadership team?

Session length

Again, each camp is so different from the next, and the topic of session length is no exception! Camps range from offering just 1-week sessions throughout the summer, to only offering a summer-long experience. Runoia offers two 3-week sessions and limited opportunities for a full summer. We also offer a 2-week ‘try it’ program for our youngest campers called Harmony Land Camp. When thinking about session length, try asking these questions:

  • Do you offer a shorter ‘starter camp’ program to try? What ages are eligible if so?
  • What are your session dates and how long is each session?
  • Do most campers choose to go for one session or the full summer?


Location, location, location

We might be a touch biased to say that Maine really is the summer camp capitol of the world, and Maine does it well! Offering plenty of water, beautiful green land, and mountains to boot – you just can’t beat it. And since each year we welcome campers who have traveled from not just states away but countries away, we’d have to say it’s a worthwhile journey.


Here are some important questions to ask about location and transportation:

  • What are the options for transportation to camp?
  • What does opening day look like for each mode of transportation?
  • Do parents and guardians tend to travel in the area for the duration of camp?


To choose a camp, it is important that your child finds a community in which they can see themselves represented by other campers, staff, and in camp policies. Runoia is happy to have seen its camper diversity grow organically in recent years, and has responded with the formation of its DAC, Diversity Advisory Committee, and intentional efforts to positively impact access to camp and the experience of camp for all families. Whether this directly impacts your camper or not, it is an important component in a camp’s culture and community. Here are some questions to ask a director on diversity at camp:

  • How would you describe the diversity of your camp? Has it grown recently?
  • Does your camp have any official advisory, DEI professional, or DEI policy in place?
  • Do you offer DEI training to your staff members?
  • How does your camp approach gender identity and pronoun expression?

What does it mean to be accredited? 

To help reduce risk, Camp Runoia is voluntarily accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). We follow standards pertaining to: program, site, facilities, transportation, vehicles, administration, personnel, and health care. If a camp holds a current ACA accreditation, it means that it has also been evaluated to meet the same rigorous set of standards as Runoia. Here are a few questions to ask about accreditation:

  • Is your camp currently accredited by the ACA?
  • Has there ever been a time recently when your camp was not accredited?

There are many factors to consider when looking to choose a camp, and each individual family and camper will have a unique set of ideas of what ‘camp’ should look and feel like to them. We hope you utilize these helpful questions in your next conversation with a camp director and wish you luck on your camp search!

Interested in Runoia? Reach out to request more information!

Mindy shares: the benefits of Harmony Land Camp, Runoia’s ‘starter camp’

Our ‘starter camp’ program, Harmony Land Camp, continues to grow and result in confident campers each summer. Assistant director and year-round head of HLC Mindy shares some of the amazing outcomes of the HLC program and some of the changes made in 2024 in this week’s blog:
The Harmony Land Camp program at Runoia is a shorter ‘starter camp’ program specially designed for younger campers, providing them with a safe and immersive introduction to summer camp and our warm and welcoming Runoia community. This unique “try-it” program is available to campers ages 6-10 and has given so many campers a sense of belonging, independence, and community, offering a transformative intro-to-camp experience they’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Our shorter HLC programs allow campers to try out camp life with extra support and without committing to being away from home for a full three weeks. HLC campers live with staff in one of our newest cabins, purposely built for HLC right in the heart of camp. HLC cabins are spacious and bright, and have bathrooms with showers. Campers live and play together, making new friends and experiencing lots of activities – some with main camp and some that are special just for HLC.
Harmony Land Campers spend time on the waterfront with older junior end campers!
Our HLC Elm program runs concurrently with our second session of main camp. Elm is a longer program geared towards returning HLC campers or anyone else in the HLC age range who is ready to spend 3 weeks at camp with the support of the HLC program. Campers in Elm receive the same support and specialized programming that our shorter HLC programs include, with a little more autonomy and choice. It’s a great bridge between our shorter HLC sessions and your returning HLC camper’s first year in main camp, or a great fit for a 6-10 year old first-time camper who wants a longer “try out.”
HLC provides your camper with:
1. Introduction to Camp Life: New campers will be introduced to the daily routines, traditions, camp facilities, and values that make Runoia a unique and welcoming place.
2. Activities: HLC campers engage in age-appropriate camp activities together as a group – developing skills, teamwork, and self-confidence. Activities are selected to provide a wide range of experiences, including arts and crafts, waterfront time, outdoor adventures, horse riding, sports, and more. Campers choosing our longer Elm program will have the chance to select some of their own activities and help shape their own experience.
3. Counselor Support: Experienced and caring counselors are hand-picked for the HLC program. These counselors are knowledgeable about the needs of younger and newer campers and will provide day-to-day care, ensuring campers feel safe, supported, and encouraged in their new environment. HLC counselors are supported by both the HLC Director and the Runoia Camp Director, both of whom have had the experience of sending their own young children to camp!
The Benefits of Attending Camp Can Start at a Young Age:
1. Independence: Young campers learn valuable life skills, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and self-reliance, in a supportive and nurturing environment.
2. Confidence: Camp helps boost self-esteem and self-confidence as campers achieve personal goals and gain new skills, especially those living away from home for the first time.
3. Social Skills: Camp provides opportunities to make friends, live with peers, and develop strong interpersonal skills that are essential in building meaningful relationships.
4. Connection to Nature: Spending time in Maine’s natural beauty fosters a love for the outdoors and environmental awareness. At camp we strive to do everything we do in harmony with nature.
5. Resilience: Campers learn to adapt to new situations and overcome challenges, building resilience and a positive outlook.
HLC is a Camp Within a Camp: A Smaller Camp with The Benefits of the Runoia Community
1. Friendships: Camp is a place where lifelong friendships are formed, providing a strong support network throughout life.
2. Empowerment: Camp encourages campers to explore their interests, pursue their passions, and become leaders in their own right.
3. Inclusivity: Runoia values diversity and inclusion, creating an environment where every camper feels accepted and valued, whoever they are and wherever they are from.
4. Positive Role Models: Camp provides access to strong role models – counselors, senior staff, and older campers who inspire HLC campers and welcome them into the Runoia community.
5. Summer Fun: HLC Camp activities range from horseback riding to tubing to campcraft to arts and crafts to sports. HLC campers participate in our meaningful, long-standing Runoia traditions. There’s no better place to be in summer than at our beautiful waterfront!
In the HLC program at Runoia, we believe that the early camp experience lays the foundation for a lifetime of personal growth, resilience, and a sense of belonging to a supportive community of like-minded people. Join us in Maine for an unforgettable summer adventure where friendships and memories are made to last a lifetime!
Interested in exploring HLC for your camper? Reach out to Mindy to learn more!