Camp is in my blood. Like many east-coast Jewish kids, my mom attended summer camp throughout her entire childhood. She started the first year she was old enough for the camp to take her, and she continued as a staff member until she finally had to enter the adult world. Comparing camp stories with her, I’ve found that we’ve had a lot of experiences in common. The camaraderie between staff and cabin-mates, the closer connection to Judaism and nature, and the opportunities for growth in confidence and ability remain cornerstones of a Jewish summer camp experience. But, given the several decades of separation between my experience and my mom’s, there are many differences, too.
For one thing, camp is safer now, with much more supervision – my mom once wandered all the way to a different property and got in trouble when she showed up an hour late to dinner with a stranger’s horse in tow. And, of course, we go to camp for a much shorter length of time. When my mom was six years old, she went to camp for the first time and stayed for six weeks. Here at Ranch Camp, minis of the same age (or even older) stay for only one.
When I meet parents on drop off day, many of them share similar stories, telling me about how long they went to camp when they were younger than their own children. To some, a week at Ranch Camp doesn’t sound like nearly enough. If kids could handle six weeks away from home back then, why can’t they do it now? How could a camper have the life-changing experience of camp in just seven days? What’s the point?
In my potentially slightly-biased opinion as the Chalutzim unit head, I think there is a very important point in sending kids to a mini session at Ranch Camp. A mini session is like an appetizer before a full meal. For kids who are nervous about being away from home for the first time, being here for just one week whets their appetite for more without overwhelming them on the first go.
They get to experience some of the touchstone programs of camp, like Maccabiah, Gold Rush, and campfire. They still get to bond with the other Chalutzim campers during unit programs like Ranch Camp Jeopardy or Wishboats. And they have enough time to get used to the day-to-day schedule of camp, so that when they come back next year they know which songs we sing at degel and which shower stall has the best water pressure. Full-session Chalutzim campers who attended a mini session the summer before are some of the most successful campers to come through the front gates. Armed with the knowledge and confidence that the mini session has given them, they are much more easily able to adjust to the rhythm of camp, and to help their cabinmates do the same.
Out in the real world, adults attend orientations all the time. At a new job, a college tour, or a new house, people take the time to make themselves comfortable before settling in. For campers, that’s exactly what a mini session is for – it’s a week of orientation, hand in hand with discovery, adventure, and a rousing welcome into the Ranch Camp community.