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The First Time Away from Home


The Spark talks to camp leaders and parents about a kid’s first time away from home

This summer might be the first time your child goes away without you. If there are school trips planned, or cub/scout/brownie/guide camps in the offing, you or your child may be feeling nervous about this first separation.

Carly Kew, senior duty instructor at Kilve Court Residential Centre in Bridgwater explains how they prepare children and parents for their summer camps. First they run an information evening at the school so when the children arrive they’ll know what to expect and recognise some faces. “At this meeting parents often discuss concerns,” Carly says. “Their child may have special needs, use medication, or just feel nervous. We talk through any issues and parents are also welcome to ring at any time, before or during the camp,” Carly says. On arrival at the centre, there’s a welcome session, which parents can stay for, covering all the nitty-gritty stuff such as fire drills, health and safety and timetable reminders, then children are shown to their rooms and unpack.

Jill Piper was a Brown Owl in Nailsea taking girls aged seven-eleven years on Brownie camp for the first time. “Before we went away we’d talk about what we’d be doing and make things to take with us.  We’d look at photos of previous trips so they knew where they’d be sleeping, and of the toilets and showers, which are always a concern to young children. We’d encourage the girls to bring a cake, maybe their favourite, ensuring they would have a treat from home to share . It was always a big event to see whose cake was going to come out of the kitchen all the way from home.

“We chose to take our Brownies away locally,” Jill adds, “to Long Ashton. That might sound a bit close but we felt it was the experience of being somewhat independent that was important, not the venue or distance. It meant parents could bring them and settle the girls themselves, and eliminated the trauma of getting onto a coach and having a big wave off.  Girls could come just for the day if they were nervous, so they didn’t miss out totally on the adventure, with the option of staying if they then felt more confident, and this did actually happen; one girl couldn’t wait to throw her sleeping bag down and join in! We did activities in the evening so they didn’t think too much about bedtime without mum and dad, and sleeping arrangements meant friends could stay together. We put them in small groups of different ages so the older ones who’d been on camps before could guide and reassure the younger ones, which they liked as they felt grown up. We also made sure it was expected of everyone, including the adults, to bring their teddies.”

And how did she deal with any homesickness? “We made sure we had a safe, quiet place we could talk if they felt a bit tearful, and explained their feelings were perfectly normal,” Jill says, “We’d get them to bring a special friend to sit with, and do some tasks together to keep them occupied and their minds busy. We gave them the choice to call home, and if that didn’t calm them the parents had the option to come and collect them. Usually the child had a favourite guider and we’d get them to shadow her for a bit, just like they would at home with following mum and dad around... until they eventually went off to join in with everyone else and forget that they were upset at all.”

Kilve Court staff are also on the alert for any homesickness.  “If we notice a child feeling a bit wobbly we’ll talk to them straight away,” says Carly. “We’ll try to get them involved in an activity. They might want to phone their parent, and that’s normal. We just say it’s good to try staying a while and see how they feel, and they’re usually okay after the first night. Often once they’ve been once, children will come back again and again, arranging it so they meet up with the friends they met and bonded with the first time. We have parents bringing their children who came to Kilve Court themselves 30 years ago and have really good memories, so we must be doing something right!”

Carly’s advice to parents who may have a hesitant child is this: “They must want to come, but don’t force them. Most stays end up positive, but the parents know their children best . Give them the opportunity and we’ll do everything we can to make sure it’s a good one.”

Vanessa Yeatman’s daughter, Anna, was 11 when her first school camp took place. “She had been away before, when she was nine, for a two-night trip with school, and really enjoyed it,” Vanessa tells me. “However, the following year she’d become a real home-lover, not even staying at friends’ houses, so I wasn’t surprised when she said she didn’t want to go on the school trip. But she has been away without us since. When she was almost 13 she went away with her best friend and family for a long weekend. She had no qualms about leaving home and had a great time. She also went to Spain with them for a week last year at the age of 14 which she loved. Looking back it seems she just had a year or so of not wanting to sleep away from us. To other parents of nervous kids I would say don’t push it: it won’t help and they all grow out of it.’”

Every child is different. Liz Drew, now 16, remembers her first time away from home, school camp, age ten. “I think my mum was nervous about me going but I wasn’t nervous at all,” she says. “All my mates were going and it was exciting. One highlight I remember was that I had fallen out with one of my friends but we made up again at the top of a high tower we had had to climb, because we were so scared. I remember a couple of my friends getting homesick but we just all looked after each other. I would definitely recommend it to anyone feeling a bit nervous – you know you’ll have a good time once you’re there – so push yourself a bit and enjoy it.”

First published issue 57 (Summer 2009)

Written by Beccy Golding


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