Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ten Tips for Writing a Letter to a Kid at Summer Camp

I am surprised at how many views my post "Letter to the Kids at Camp" is receiving via blogger stats. And in reflecting on this, I realize that many people may not know what to say in a letter to a kid at camp. I think this comes from a society where we are so text and email focused that we've forgotten the art of the hand written letter. I personally love writing letters to my kids at camp, but my husband would rather stab his eyeballs repeatedly with a fork than correspond longhand. In fact, the few letters he does write during the summer are typed and printed.

The kids could care less. They just want mail.

So keep that in mind when you sit down to write a child at overnight summer camp. They really don't care what you write. They just want that letter handed to them when the mail arrives, and are thrilled with anything that is enclosed. Receiving mail daily helps them to stay connected and alleviates homesickness.

However, I find that some letters garner more enthusiasm than others. Here are ten tips if you find that blank piece of paper staring you in the face and have no idea where to start.

1. Write about the mundane. Tell them what you did for the past day or two. I suspect that EVERY child has a twinge of homesickness while at camp, even if they'll never admit it (my son). They like to know what you are doing, who you've seen, what you ate for dinner. You know - the everyday nonsense of your life.

2. When you've got nothing, and you've already told them what you're up to in yesterday's note, go online. Look for news headlines. Tell them what's going on in the world around them, because they are oblivious. They are at camp, and are (hopefully!) unconnected. They have no idea that the Duke and Duchess just had a baby, it's a boy, and the odds were 8-1 that the child's name would be George. If your child is heavy into sports, send them some score updates. Whatever they are interested in. And don't be afraid to include your opinion on the news item. Letter writing is a great way for you to express your opinions and ideas on controversial news topics, giving your kids more insight into your belief system of which they otherwise might not be aware.

3. Tell them a funny story. Case in point: my story about the bat. I truly did write each of my kids a letter with nothing more than the details of that tale, albeit much shorter than the story as written on the blog.

4. Send some funny cards. You know the ones - the borderline inappropriate cards in the Hallmark section. Bathroom humor is always a good option. Cute cards telling you miss them are nice. But be sure to include a few lines of your own in there. Remember - they want to hear about YOU, and what's going on in your life.

5. Look up dumb jokes. Include five or ten in a letter. Ask them to share your letter with their cabin, and have their cabinmates vote on the best joke. This is a great way for the first-time camper to engage with their peers and expand some friendships. This also works well with Chuck Norris lines. My son's favorite? "When Chuck Norris is stabbed, the knife bleeds." Know your audience, and in the case of 13 year-old boys, an entire letter comprised of Chuck Norris jokes scores major points.

6. Check out celebrity headlines. Case in point: A certain celebrity couple who recently named their child North West. Tell your camper about that, then google crazy celebrity baby names and list them all. Tell them to share them with their cabinmates, vote on the worst one, and share the results with you. My 15 year-old daughter liked this one.

7. Draw them a picture. Mr. Musky finds himself in a constant state of bug warfare at our cabin, and his most recent weapon in the arsenal is an electrically charged racket he can zap the flies with. Instead of trying to explain this to the kids, I drew them a (very bad) picture. My daughter said it made her laugh hysterically. I'm not sure if she laughed at my lackluster artistry, or the image it garnered in her head of her father ridiculously trying to kill bugs with a tennis racket. Regardless, it amused her.

8. Look up crazy news headlines and include them in a letter for an amusing diversion. I don't know if this was more entertaining for me to write or for them to read. People are nutso out there. Example: "Man Allegedly Pooped in Holland Tunnel Booth." Again - bathroom humor always wins.

9. Send care packages to college students, not your camper. Seriously. I know a lot of camps have outlawed these completely due to the hyper-competitive parents who send ridiculous amounts of useless stuff. Your kids don't need a package of junk (because seriously, that's what it is) to know you love them. In the past seven years, I have sent only one care package to my child at camp - a box of July 4th paraphernalia she could share with her entire cabin. Don't send candy or food. They are living in the woods, and do not want critters in the cabins. If you absolutely must send your child a care package, be sure you know what the camp's policy is and adhere to it. Respect it. The rules are present for a reason. Include enough in the package for the entire cabin to share - imagine an 8 year old with a box of goodies and the jealousy the others might feel. And trust me - your child would rather receive a letter from you every day of the week versus one care package in that same week. Write to them instead.

10. Don't be afraid to share your feelings with them. I find that the older my kids get, the mushier some of my letters are. I mix these in with the lighthearted ones, telling them if I'm angry or frustrated or sad or just miss them to the point of madness. Be careful about doing this with younger campers, as their homesickness may be more acute than with an older, more experienced camper. Use good judgment, but my point is you don't need to be afraid to communicate some of the negative. I find that in doing this, my kids are honest in their letters back to me and tell me what's bugging them at camp, and how they are trying to cope with the issue.

At the end of the day, just write. Often. Both of my kids repeatedly thank me for writing so many letters, even if some of them are just three sentences because I'm pressed for time. Your child will be so grateful to see that envelope with the familiar scrawl and return address, regardless of the content inside.



  1. Great advice Jen - especially that what kids most want are letters so parents should JUST WRITE. Could not agree more. - Thanks, Steve, The Letters to Camp Blog.

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