Shabbat-O-Gram Week 1
Dear parents and friends,
There’s not much better than the feeling of the first Shabbat of camp. Since we arrived last Sunday we’ve been running at full speed, but last night we took a breath and slowed down. I think that’s one of the reasons kids say they love Shabbat at camp so much. They get to experience the collective sigh of entering Shabbat as one whole community. You can see it in the smiles and casual arms around each other as campers walked together for our first Shabbat Walk – the procession led by our talented songleaders from the Waterfront to the Chapel. You can sense it as we’re sitting in the Chapel swaying together to our special Shabbat tunes, like my favorite that’s a mash up of Mi Chamocha and Velvet Sea (by the band Phish). You can feel it when the floor of the Old Rec shakes under our feet at Ruach, our Friday night song session, where everyone goes crazy dancing, singing, and cheering, led by our incredible 2023 CITs. The intensity and rush of the week has dissipated, and everyone is focused on the present moment. It’s amazing what can happen when no one has phones in their hands! It’s around now that new campers start to understand what we mean when returning campers refer to camp as their ‘second home.’
We’ve been using the language of ‘home’ a lot this week as we’ve been getting settled in our cabins. The first night of camp each bunk sat together to establish their bunk expectations, with everyone contributing and signing the poster together that now hangs on each cabin wall. It’s not easy to go from having your own room as many campers do, to sharing a cabin with a bunch of other kids you don’t know. It can be stressful and scary, and it’s not automatically awesome for every camper. Giving kids a voice to share what they need to feel comfortable right away on the first night helps them to feel safe and settled. We talk about how here at Kingswood, your bunk is your family. How just like at home you may not always get along with your siblings, but at the end of the day, you have each other’s backs. We know that when campers feel that support from their bunk mates and counselors, they’re more confident and more willing to take risks and try things for the first time. Walking around camp this week, there’s no question campers are feeling that love and support!
Last night at Shabbat services, I asked what campers had done this week for the first time that they’re most proud of. You’ve probably noticed in the photos online that lots of kids have gotten up on water skis this week! For many campers, that was a huge first for them, and it was their proudest moment so far. For others, auditioning for the play was a first, and at The Little Mermaid auditions at the Old Rec there were some campers who are die hard thespians already, but there were also lots of kids talking about how they had never been on a stage before. Other shoutouts of firsts included hitting a bull’s eye at archery, making shakshuka in outdoor cooking, reaching the top of the climbing tower, and riding a mountain bike on a trail. Campers also shared firsts like being at overnight camp, sleeping away from their parents, and making their bed for the first time. It’s been a week full of firsts here at camp, and it’s been awesome to watch the proud moments that follow. The way kids hold their heads a little higher and let their shoulders relax a bit. The way their eyes crinkle when they smile, showing genuine happiness. The way they jump up to do the hand movements with songs in the dining hall, not caring if they mess up a part, when just a few days ago they were afraid to join in, nervous and unsure.
It’s that confidence and comfort I saw this morning when I went down to the Swim Dock for the Big Swim. A long-standing Kingswood tradition, the Big Swim for Olim and Tsofim starts in week one swimming dock-to-dock, while the Bogrim and Chalutzim campers can opt to swim further, across the lake and back. The Big Swim is optional, but you wouldn’t have guessed that if you had been on the swim dock this morning! There were tons of campers who woke up early to participate, and more who had come down just to cheer on their bunkmates. I jumped in with the first group of Olim campers, so impressed with their willingness to go for it despite the chill in the air that I couldn’t say no when they asked me to swim with them! Most of them had never done a distance swim before in open water, and even though they all thought they’d need to take breaks on the paddleboards the life guards were guarding from along the way, most of them swam the whole way without stopping! Talk about a meaningful first. They were beaming as they got out at the Canoe Dock, high-fiving each other and talking about going even further next week. Me and Sammy, a 7-weeker, made a deal that the last week of camp we’ll go all the way across the lake together. It will be a first for both of us!
We’re almost done with the first elective cycle, and campers signed up for their second round of choice activities yesterday. It was so cool to see the difference between sign-ups last Monday and sign-ups this time. I overheard one Tsofim camper saying to her bunkmates, “I love you guys, but I want to try woodshop even if you don’t.” How awesome is that?! At electives, kids meet other kids in their unit with similar interests, so not only are they connected to their bunk mates, they’re also making new friends who share similar interests in the other cabins. I love that about Kingswood – we’re big enough that there are tons of activity choices, but we’re small enough that by the end of week one, campers can branch out confidently because there’s an intimacy created when every face is familiar. I also love that kids are able to create the camp experience they want, specializing in whatever they choose, based on their interests and passions. If a camper wants a whole week just dedicated to sports, they can choose that, or if they want to diversify and choose electives in different areas, they can do that too. This year we’ve introduced an ‘independent study’ model for Bogrim and Chalutztim campers, where they stick to the regular schedule if they want, or they can choose to design a more specialized experience at any activity to ‘break the script’ of camp and go deeper into something they love, extending beyond one period if they choose. Campers are excited by this new option, and already we have one Chalutzim camper assisting at archery with the younger units, and another camper working on an advanced art project with one of our art staff, to share a few examples. We’ve also introduced Unit Waterfront periods for the first time, so every camper has plenty of time to swim and play in the Aqua Park (on the inflatable water toys) every day, and campers are guaranteed one period with all their friends, even if they choose different activities the rest of the day.
Shabbat this week has been led by the Chalutzim and Olim units together, as part of our Chalutzim Buddy program. A favorite Kingswood tradition, Chalutzim buddies gives our oldest campers a taste of being a role model and counselor, and gives our youngest campers a connection to the oldest and most experienced campers. Earlier this week the campers were introduced to their buddies, and already you can see the bonds forming. The Olimers had no fear standing in front of the whole camp to lead their parts of services with their Chalutzim buddies alongside them, and I overheard a few Chalutzimers making plans with their Olim buddies to hang out together this afternoon.
It’s already a beautiful day here in Maine, and after lunch kids will have lots of special Saturday options to choose from. It must be the camp magic that’s held off the storms this week, because we were expecting a whole week of thunderstorms, but only had to move to rainy day programs a couple of times. It’s left camp pretty muddy though, so if you see campers playing baseball on the hockey rink, or doing soccer drills on the Waterfront lawn, that’s why! Hopefully today’s sunshine will dry up the mud so we can get back onto the baseball diamond and soccer fields tomorrow. It’s not holding us back here at all though, and this afternoon Upper Fields (home of our sports programs) will be hopping, despite the muddy conditions. Lots of kids are already signed up for the first pickleball tournament of the summer, and the basketball tournament will be sure to draw a crowd. In addition to the popular options of the Waterfront and sports tournaments, campers will be busy today at their choice of the tower, farm, arts & crafts, music, fitness, hockey, volleyball, play practice, or cards and board games! It’s going to be an awesome first Saturday of the summer.
By now you might have already received a letter from your campers, as we had our first Letter Writing Day on Wednesday. Every Sunday and Wednesday is Letter Writing Day here at Kingswood, when campers are required to write a letter to a parent. Campers are invited to choose between sending an email or a letter in an envelope. If you’re still not clear on how our email system works, just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to walk you through it! I also encourage you to use the Campanion app to view photos. The photo recognition tool is only available in the app, and it makes your life way easier by pulling photos of your camper to the top of your feed so you don’t have to scroll through all the photos each day. Please reach out if you’re still not set up and we’ll help you with that too! As always, you can reach us at camp anytime, and our summer office phone number is (207) 647-3969.
Have a great week, and I look forward to filling you in about what’s been happening at camp in next week’s Shabbat-O-Gram!