All camp parents know this car-ride conversation:
“How was it?”
“What’d you do?
“Lots of fun stuff.”
Sound familiar? After a session at camp, I’m sure your child has countless camp moments they can share – but will they? Getting kids beyond the “it was great” response can be a huge challenge.
After your child returns from camp and catches up on sleep, what do you ask to avoid the dreaded "We did fun stuff" response?
All parents ask, "Was it fun?" – and hopefully it was! But the camp experience is much bigger, broader, and deeper than just fun. There are far more measurements than "fun" to evaluate their experience.
The only time anyone learns is when they reflect on it – and so, in the days, weeks and months after your child returns home from camp, it's time to start asking the important questions.
The first stories will be about the wild moments – the van breaking down, the burnt hot dogs, the practical jokes. With time the more serious reflections will arise. What your child thinks about and pays attention to in the aftermath is what will likely live beyond the experience itself.
Take it slowly.
Remember to go slowly and pace yourself. Don’t ask all your questions at once – save a few for those long car rides or the dinner table. The camp experience has its own culture, a different environment, a different rhythm, new relationships, and even new perspectives on life and faith. It can be difficult for returning campers to jump back into their old routines. Expect life to be different - and allow it to be. Prepare to ask questions over the next days, weeks, and even months.
Ask the right questions.
To get you started, here is a list of easy prompts to get your camper chatting and sharing the details:
- What was your favorite activity at camp?
- What was the tastiest meal at the Dining Hall?
- What did you do during cabin time?
- Did you do anything you’ve never tried before? What was the hardest thing you tried?
- Tell me about your camp friends! Where do they live?
- Tell me about your favorite counselor. Did they ever do something really funny/wacky?
- What did it feel like to be around so many Jewish people?
- Why is Shabbat so special at camp?
- Will you show me your favorite Israeli dance?
- Did your unit have a session song? Can you teach it to me?
- What was the coolest prayer service you attended?
- What activities did you do during Israel Day? Did you get to know any of the Israeli counselors? What did you learn from them about Israel?
- Did something or someone change how you think/feel about being Jewish? In what ways?
- Was there a deeper part of the session? How would you describe that part of your experience?
- What happened at camp that felt life-shaping – or even life-changing – for you?
- What challenged you?
- What do you think will stick with you?
- What did you enjoy this year more than past years? What do you love now that you didn’t as a younger camper?
Of course, there are plenty more questions to ask and conversations to be had. This list is only the beginning!
Learn from your child.
As your child responds to your questions and begins to tell stories, do your best to listen, not to evaluate, challenge, or jump in with your own stories. Instead, let your camper own and grow from their experience.
The ultimate learning comes when we let our young people be our teachers, so be ready to be challenged, allow for new experiences, and maybe even try out some new practices of life and faith – and in that vein, don’t forget to ask your child this one big, important question: “After this experience, what should I learn from you?”
Use this tool to find the perfect Reform Jewish summer camp for your child.
Contributors to this piece include Aaron Heft (URJ Camp Kalsman), Alaina Yoakum (URJ Camp Newman), and Emily Arkin (URJ Youth).