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!

Love,

Aionur

‘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,

Aionur

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?

Tradition

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?

Diversity

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!

Singing Builds Community at Camp

As we come toward the end of an incredible 117th consecutive summer, one thing remains true year after year: Runoia loves to sing, and our singing builds community at camp. When COVID came and changed life and camp as we knew it, we weren’t able to sing as a community in the same way we always had.

Luckily, with the continuity of our campers, staff, and leadership – our singing and passing down of camp songs has resurged with so much energy this summer. Campfires are alive with songs new and old, and our oldest campers especially jump at every opportunity to sing more and push their bedtime a little later.

Songs can be heard at meals – singing for birthdays, the melody of ‘save your spoons, save your spoons for dessert…’, at assembly with songs led by staff, CITs, and campers, at campfires as we join together for our most reflective songs, and all of the in between moments – even at CRAO meetings!

Singing is vital to the Runoia community, and not for no reason – singing at camp benefits our community in countless ways –

It’s a chance to be silly and care-free…

a chance to be creative and make your own songs – like our HLC B campers who created ‘The Monkey Song’ from ‘The Beaver Song’ this session, or our 4th shack campers who rewrote a Taylor Swift song for the variety show

a chance to be brave and bold and stand up before a crowd

a chance to connect to camp’s history and sing the songs of generations before us

a way to relax and have fun

an opportunity to learn new things 

and a way to build community.

But don’t just take it from us – singing to build community is a tale as old as time, a thing of historical and cultural significance, and has scientific evidence to back its social benefits.

In Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, writer Jill Suttie shares that “Listening to music and singing together has been shown in several studies to directly impact neuro-chemicals in the brain, many of which play a role in closeness and connection.” She goes on to share that research in community music shows that “endorphins produced in singing can act to draw large groups together quickly.”

We’re glad to know that the science recognizes what Runoia has known as a universal truth for generations. We won’t be halting our singing, dancing, or piano-playing anytime soon here on Great Pond.

 

 

Announcing Runoia’s 2023 Equestrian Camp!

This week, we have one of our most exciting guest blogs to date – Jen Dresdow is here, announcing Runoia’s 2023 Equestrian Camp!

The equestrian program at Camp Runoia has grown over the past decade into one of our capstone programs. The past several summers have seen sold out lesson numbers. We are excited to launch enrollment for our new Equestrian Camp which will allow even more riders to enjoy our fantastic program! This riding intensive week will run Sunday August 13th to Saturday August 19th and will be open to girls going into 6th – 12th grade. This camp is an ideal prep week for those in both IEA and EAP, as they will have an opportunity to ride a variety of horses and practice in a show. However, there will be some spaces for beginner level riders as well.

Our lead coach for the week will be Kayleigh Burke. Kayleigh is collegiate level coach, having worked with both Hollins University and Virginia Tech, and currently coaches an IEA team out of Virginia Tech. Kayleigh is also a USEF ‘r’ rated judge for hunters and hunt seat equitation. Kayleigh will be assisted by collegiate level riders from Hollins University and Miami of Ohio University. 

Along with 2 mounted riding lessons per day, campers will also get 2 unmounted lessons per day covering a variety of horsemanship topics from how to walk to a course to equine first aid to show grooming and braiding. Kayleigh and her staff will also discuss collegiate riding opportunities. Lessons will have 4-5 riders in the group with 2 instructors. A sample daily schedule is:

7:00 – Chores at barn (campers will rotate helping)

7:30 – Wake Up

8:00 – Breakfast

8:30 – Cabin Clean Up

9:00 – Coach talk/groom & tack

9:30 – Groups 1 & 2 lesson/Groups 3 & 4 Unmounted Lesson

10:30 – Snack

10:45 – Groups 3 & 4 lesson/Groups 1 & 2 Unmounted Lesson

11:45- All Chores

12:30 – Lunch

12:45 – Beach Time/Swimming/Rest

2:15 – Groups 1 & 2 lesson/Groups 3 & 4 Unmounted Lesson

3:15 – Snack

3:30 – Groups 3 & 4 lesson/Groups 1 & 2 Unmounted Lesson

4:30 – Chores

5:00 – Showers & Clean Up

6:00 – Supper

6:45 – Evening Program

8:00 – Bedtime Snack

8:30 – Cabin Time followed by Bed Time

Campers will also go on field trip to a local tack shop and sale barn. There will be some fun surprises as well! On Saturday August 19th, all campers will participate in a final horse show at 10am. Parents are welcome to attend the show and depart after with their camper.

Transportation from/to Portland Jetport will be available and a van from the Boston area may be available if we get enough demand. Cost for the camp is $1900. An early bird rate of $1800 will apply until May 1st. Parents can apply on our website. This program is limited to 18 riders and there are limited spots based on riders level. A $500 deposit is due at the time of confirmed enrollment. 

Questions or to check on space, email jen@runoia.com or call 207-613-7004

Ready to ride? Register now!

Feeling Ready for Camp

Feeling ‘ready’ for camp is an exciting milestone for kids – sometimes they are able to self-advocate for wanting to attend camp and come readily equipped with the confidence to take on a new experience. My conversations with new and prospective camp families, however, have taught me that most campers don’t fall into this category – it is normal to feel apprehensive and uncertain about camp!

Camp is a powerful builder of confidence and independence – especially for return campers – but it can be a bit of a catch-22: how can you feel ready for such a major confidence-building experience without first feeling confident enough to try it?

Luckily, there are ways we can help our campers and children feel ready – or, at the very least, willing – to try a major new experience like camp.

Start Small: Harmony Land Camp 

Runoia created its Harmony Land Camp program precisely for the purpose of scaffolding our youngest campers toward comfort and a positive first experience with overnight camping. With expert support and individualized care, Harmony Land campers can grow their confidence over a summer or two in this program before taking the leap of attending a longer 3-week session of our typical camp program. HLC is tailored for kids aged 6-8 to form tight-knit friendships, explore new interests, and ease into camp life. Choose from ‘mini’ 9-day sessions OR our standard 12-day HLC sessions.

HLC is such a wildly popular ‘starter camp’ program at Runoia, we added a new session in 2023!

AND – we’ve heard our parents and families saying that even at older ages, our kids aren’t feeling ‘ready’ for the full 3-week sleep-away experience.

SO, we’ve opened up our HLC B session to a new, older age group: rising 5th graders and 10-year-olds are now welcome to enroll in this Harmony Land Camp session! 

Practice

Like anything else, being away from family members and ‘safe space’ people for a few weeks can be daunting.

Think of how you can help your child practice being away from home and family members they see daily, by doing things like attending sleep-overs with friends or spending the night at a grandparent’s or trusted family member’s house.

You can also help your child practice independence with tasks that you typically help them with so they can feel more prepared at camp – things like brushing their own hair, picking out outfits for their activities, or making their bed – but rest assured that they will also have caring counselors to help them.

Make a friend

Runoia aims to support new campers by helping them create connections and form bonds leading up to camp. Runoia buddies up penpals between returning and new campers in the spring to help first-time Runoia campers make connections and have a buddy they’ve spent time talking to on the first day they arrive at camp.

Talk about how to self-advocate with your child

One of the most important life skills that we help our campers build every summer is self advocacy. We encourage our campers to speak up for themselves, let someone know when they need help, and to identify and feel comfortable approaching trusted adults in our community.

It helps to talk with your child about self advocacy and how and who to approach for help at camp. Luckily, camp is well-equipped with caring adults prepared to help your child at any moment. Some of the trusted adults and helpers in our community that your child can ask for help are:

  • Directors and assistant directors
  • Leadership staff – look for someone with a walkie talkie
  • Your child’s Head of Cabin (HOC)
  • Your child’s cabin counselors
  • Program staff during classes
  • CITs

No Surprises – Setting Expectations

Having clear expectations and knowing what to anticipate is important for a child’s first camp experience, especially if they are feeling on the apprehensive side. You can help your child form realistic expectations for camp by:

  • Talking regularly about camp leading up to the summer and listen to how they’re imagining it, what they’re most excited for, etc.
  • Going through our website and using different tools like our media galleries, videos, our virtual tour, etc. to help them form an idea of camp
  • Discussing how you will communicate over the summer – including learning how to write and send letters if necessary – campers should know that phone calls, promises to be picked up, etc. are not realistic expectations for camp
  • Identifying and discussing things that will look and feel different at camp – like meals, showers and self care, alone time, etc.
  • Still have questions? Give us a call!

Prepare Coping Skills

When the inevitable does happen at camp – having a bad moment or day, struggling with a new skill, adjusting to a new social situation – it’s important for kids to know that they can do hard things and have the skills and tools to move through those tough feelings. ‘Coping skills’ may sound like a scary term meant for crisis situations, but really they’re helping tools for us all to use when we’re feeling a bit stressed or overwhelmed. Coping skills can be distraction methods, tools for processing emotions, physical calming strategies, and more.

Look through our suggested guide of camp-specific coping skills at the end of this blog and help your camper make their own, individualized list that they can use at camp.

Jump in Anyway!

At the end of the day, we may never really be fully ‘ready’ for anything we try in life – and we think it’s okay to jump in anyway. At camp, our counselors and campers learn that they are capable of doing hard things. Sometimes we have to do things scared, or we’ll never do them at all. And whatever happens along the way, we can handle it with our community by our side.

 

Coping skills for camp

All About Art Activities – ‘Wait, you have that?’

At Runoia, we’re lucky enough to offer such a diverse list of options that we couldn’t fit all of our incredible art activities in just one blog! Ruby, our Head of Creative Arts, is back this week to continue telling us all about each and every offering in our arts department at camp. This time, she’s delving into the more niche art forms you can try with us:


Hi y’all! Just like last time, my name is Ruby and I’m the Head of Creative Arts at Runoia. Did you find your perfect creative outlet in our last post about art activities? This time we’ll be talking about six more art activities and why you might be interested in learning more about them!

Whether you sign up for every art possible, or find yourself in one of our many art classes, welcome! On average, one of four campers will be in an art class at any time, so let’s see what they’re doing!

Stained Glass – An activity reserved for the oldest campers, stained glass combines so many creative elements together to create a lasting piece. Do you want to create a flower motif from glass, a boat out on those blue waves, or perhaps create a design with the help of our expert staff? Definitely give this a try if you’re looking to make an awe-inspiring piece!

A beautiful finished Runoia stained glass piece!


Photography – Do you take a hundred photos of your pets everyday? Or maybe scenic landscapes, or portraits? Our photo classes will help you hone your camera skills while teaching you about the chemical reactions needed to develop film in our dark room! If you want to up your photography game, definitely take this class.

Sewing – If you’re looking for a craft to connect to over one hundred years of Runoia history, look no further than sewing. While this traditional skill can make some think of mending or fixing holes in socks, don’t count this activity out! For the truly fashion forward, sewing is a great way to see designs come to life! From scrunchies, tote bags, and even small plushies, sewing is a great way to try creating functional art. 

Drama – Do you have about a million songs downloaded onto your device of choice? Do you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is jazz hands? Okay maybe not, but our drama program might be right for you! Our drama instructors help campers put on a play the first session, and a musical in the second session!

Campers enjoy our newest art option: leathercraft!

Leathercraft – This new craft made its debut to Runoia in 2022, and had rave reviews from campers! Some people relax with yoga, a warm beverage, a good book, or a comforting movie. Others love taking a rubber mallet and whacking precise holes and designs into hand sewn leather goods. The concentration needed for this art lets the background just melt away, and allows you to focus on crafting a one of a kind piece. Once you start decorating, it begs the question, to stamp or not to stamp?

 

All smiles in the process of making this basket!

Baskets – Now I know what you’re thinking, basket weaving? Like underwater basket weaving? Yes! Well, weather dependent, but the regular basket weaving happens all the time. Basket weaving is an awesome and odd skill to have. If you’ve ever wanted to live out your cottage-core dreams, learning how to basket weave should be the first step on your journey. Plus you can use your new basket to collect berries at camp!

Now that you know all about the arts we have at camp, start thinking of that perfect schedule. I think mine would be AC, swim, baskets, and then sewing! There’s so many awesome and new things to try at camp, but what fun is planned this year? I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!

See you soon!

Ruby (she/hers)

Resilience at Camp

Last month, Dr. Tracy Brenner, “The Camp Counselor”, began a series at the Maine Camp Experience to help guide MCE parents through emotionally preparing for camp, starting with the topic of resilience in the face of homesickness and the absence of parental help.

In the vast majority of introductory conversations with parents of new campers, the inevitable topic of homesickness and preparedness for the camp experience comes up: “How do you help campers through homesickness?”, “What happens if she doesn’t adjust immediately?”

Before diving into explaining our in-depth staff training, our strategies for helping individual campers adjust, and how our social, emotional, and behavioral health specialist provides higher-level support, I always begin by first saying that homesickness is perhaps the most ‘normal’ and expected part of camp. Even the ‘campiest’ of kids experience pangs of homesickness and sadness that can make their way into a letter home, and those letters can be devastating for a parent to read.

But here’s a secret: usually by the time that letter has made it to a loved one’s mailbox, the feelings are three-days old, and those three days were full of smiles, laughter, new skills learned, and countless moments of bravery. Experiencing big feelings can be overwhelming at the best of times, and writing can be an exceptional release of those emotions to the people a camper trusts the most. Sometimes it takes time for campers to feel comfortable expressing those feelings to a friend or adult at camp instead, and be able to save the most exciting news for those letters home.

In the meantime, through all the tough moments, what we do know is that camp builds resilience (in my experience, for kids and adults alike!) Imagine a single day at camp and all of the moments a child will experience – some exciting, some disappointing. Each moment is an opportunity for growth in their resilience. From picking their sail back up after dropping it while windsurfing, to committing to fixing a mistake or rolling with it in an art project, to sitting with the disappointment of not getting their dream role in the play and choosing to be happy for their friend. For kids, these are hard things – but hard things that at camp, they are capable of.

And building that resilience can be exhausting and trying – so don’t be surprised if at week three, you find yourself picking up a quiet, tired kid. In a week or so, they might be ready to open upabout all of their amazing experiences – but be patient, they’ve been building resilience at camp for twenty-one days! And one day, that resilience may just develop to carry them up Mt. Katahdin, challenge them to go to JMG test camp, convince them to try the Oak Island swim, or accomplish something like American Archer, Advanced Equestrian, or Advanced Skipper.

On Choosing a Camp: what is the right fit?

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 choosing a brand new 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:

Narrow-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?

Structured 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?

Tradition

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?

Diversity

When choosing 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 choosing 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!

To Change: The 2022 Log Dedication

If I were to hold a self-authored book in my hand titled ‘lessons learned in recent years,’ the first page would read: “change, while uncomfortable, and at times even scary, is inevitable, necessary, and important.” Just below this line would read a dedication which credits this realization largely in part to my experiences at Runoia and my witnessing its resilience.

I hold immense gratitude for Runoia’s eagerness to change in ways that show care for our community and open our gates to more friends and family each year. Runoia is able to hold fast to its most vital traditions and pieces of history when we are flexible and bold enough to transform around them.

We owe our continuation, and the perpetuation of our traditions and history, to the courage of ourselves and of generations before us to change. It is due to this courage that we may keep what matters most: the same small bell that has called our attention for over eighty years; our voices that carry through Runoia trees with melodies passed through lifetimes; our boathouse which stands with painted names from the 1920’s through 2022; a culture of summer siblings and lifelong family. 

The winds of Camp Runoia have taught me that change is good. The winds play no favorites – filling our sails one moment, then shifting to calm our waters for skiers the next. Among the winds, we honor all of the transformative shifts of Runoia:

 

Everything ‘lost’ each summer which has ever made room for something ‘found’;

The rain which rolls in just as we could use respite from the sun; 

New lyrics which empower us rather than place us in boxes;

New campers and counselors who arrive at our gates; 

 

People coming as strangers and leaving as siblings;

The ‘Bees and Eees’; 

The changes made each summer, 116 times over, which have made Runoia a permanent fixture in our summers and souls.

 

I hereby dedicate the 2022 log to the changes, both monumental and slight, of the past 116 summers of Runoia, and to its agents of change – our campers, staff, and alumni. May we continue to adjust our sails together to point toward the future. Tonight we celebrate changes which have made Runoia what it is, and who it is, and have led to this very moment exactly as it is now – Runoia and I would not have it any other way.