I was a very lucky overnight camper. When I think back on those five summers, I can’t remember a day when I didn’t receive a piece of mail. This was in an era before we knew what email was, and average people didn’t have personal computers and printers in their homes.
Instead of typed notes, I received only postcards from my grandmother written in her distinctive, formal script—and long letters on yellow legal paper from my dad. My mom, though, was the real Mail Maven; she wrote me almost every day. We had a deal: My mom would write me as often as I wrote her. I loved getting letters so I wrote a lot of them.
It wasn’t until years and years later that I realized how difficult it must have been for my mom to write that often and actually get the letters mailed. I believe it’s easier today with most camps accepting emails for campers. Still, it can be challenging to figure out what to say in those notes.
Here are the five types of letters to send your little camper:
1. My Boring Life: A great letter to a camper lets him know what you are doing while being supportive of his time at camp. Your letters should be upbeat and cheerful with a positive report from home that describes the general, routine things that are happening around you (i.e. going to work, a trip to the grocery store, washing the car, getting your hair cut, etc.).
It’s less about what the letter says and more about the overall tone that things are uneventful and continuing as normal at home.
2. Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Ask questions about what’s happening at camp. Ask a lot of them. Don’t worry about feeling like you are interviewing your child. Questions demonstrate that you are interested in the camp experience, and also provide ideas for your child about what to include in a response.
I’ve seen great letters that ask three or four specific questions, but leave space in between for kids to write their answers and then return the form in the mail.
3. A Work of Art: If you have younger children who are at home while the older one is at camp, they can draw pictures that can be sent as letters. If you are feeling creative, you can even have your dog walk with his muddy feet on a piece of paper to make a message from a beloved pet. A letter to camp doesn’t have to include words. If it is on paper and fits in an envelope, it counts as mail.
4. A Peek into the Outside World: Everything from weather forecasts to sports stats can become great camp mail. If you read something and think “my daughter would love this,” then clip it to send in the mail or paste it into an email. Comics, Sudoku, the Sunday paper sports section, a list of the weekly Billboard Top 40 songs and magazine articles provide threads of connection to the world at home and help keep the mailbox full.
5. When All Else Fails: There are times when there is just nothing left to write about or you don’t have time to craft a letter. My recommendation is to buy a few greeting cards as a back-up plan. Let the card share the message while you only have to sign your name.
However, these are the two letters to avoid:
1. I’m Miserable Without You: Letters to your camper can include a mention of missing him, but avoid mentioning how lonely you are, how empty the house feels or how sad you are without him. Although you may be sharing this information from a place of real emotion, and to let your child know he is loved, it often leaves campers feeling guilty that they are having such a good time while you are not.
2. Any and All Iffy News: Avoid mentioning anything sad or potentially upsetting in a letter, especially when it’s something that your camper can’t do anything about while at camp. It’s best to save questionable news for when you can talk face to face with your child after camp.
If something unexpected happens while your child is away, call the camp directors to discuss how to handle the situation and whether immediate communication is necessary.
Receiving mail at camp is part of the traditional experience and ranks alongside eating s’mores, going swimming, singing around a campfire and making friendship bracelets. As a camp director and former camper, I can attest that what those notes say is secondary to the feeling of having something waiting for you during mail call.
Don’t let the content of your emails and letters become a source of stress. Years from now, your camper will remember getting mail while at camp, but will not recall what any of the messages said.
And, contrary to my mom’s example, it is not necessary to write every day. I promise.