Camp Kawaga Blog

To Camp Alone article – benefits of camp experience/activities on your own

Below is a nice little article promoting something we do at Camp Kawaga as well. As you know, our cabin size and age group breakdown is a bit unique. One of my biggest things in putting together the cabins, something that takes up a lot of time for myself and the Administration, is diversity for the boys. It is great to have a friend at camp, or even a group of friends. But living together in a big group of friends/schoolmates is not a requirement, and is actually something that I believe slows a camper’s growth and independence. Our boys see each other every day, eat meals together, live altogether. Making new friends, meeting new people, it is what camp is really all about. See what you think…

To Camp Alone

May 16, 2016
Written by Rob and Bob Wipfler
To Camp Alone image

Being “Home Alone” did not always work out so well for Macaulay Caulkin.  He should have gone to camp alone, instead.

Many parents and children are under the false impression that camps are places for hometown friends to re-gather for summer vacation. They demand to be placed in bunks together and often choose nearly identical camp schedules. Consequently, their time at camp is considerably cloistered, which significantly reduces the best by-product of the experience — an opportunity to make new and enduring friendships.

A good example is witnessed when several children attend camp together and present themselves as co-joined at the hip. This association offers protection and cover, of sort, to that membership. This crowd is collectively “self-conscious,” often presenting themselves as a singular entity. Very simply, they succeed or fail as a group. A new camper in this situation, when choosing activities, is at the mercy of the whim and whimsy of the group (or the groups dominant personality) and is much less likely to get to do the activities which he or she actually wants to do, or the ones that will offer the most benefit to the individual camper.

Many parents vigorously defend this grouping arrangement as it affords their child an insurance plan against the most feared camp outcome — exclusion. But, as the saying goes “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” While those first few hours at camp may be a bit easier, the camper is nonetheless deprived of many of the prime growth opportunities of the camp experience: making new friends on his or her own, being “discovered” by others, and forging fresh identity. The camper who jumps into the camp experience independently will do so “with two feet” and will have a better experience because of it. Parents and children should work to get past this understandable emotion and trust the camp to do what it does best; absorb all campers into the full community culture.

Camp leaders know that a gang of two or three newcomers wearing the same school shirt is less likely to be immediately hailed into an activity than a lonesome soul who politely approaches the crowd. We offer this advice to those who have come to camp with buddies from home:

Just go to an activity by yourself and ask to be included.

Camp cultures are universally accepting and this suggestion will work anywhere. The new camper is not only invited, but completely welcomed.

Now that the child branched out on her own, she is the sole beneficiary of that rush of excitement that comes with such a success.  Perhaps it is a game and her team gets clobbered.  No matter, she shares a camp experience with other children and, early in the summer, that is a hundred times better than winning the game with pals from home.

Our recommendation to those who wish to come to camp with friends is that all of them — along with their parents — acknowledge that seeking and cementing new friendships is the prime value of camp.  Good camps have protocol in place to see that this happens. The directors break up groups into different bunks.  When a couple of kids end up in the same cabin nonetheless, (our camp allows requests) the cabin counselors arrange the bed assignments to keep them well apart.  Many camps assign children to tables in random fashion, thus assuring rich age and interest variety in the dining room.

Moreover, the program directors put on their thinking caps every day to offer several alluring options to specific age groups during the same timeframe, which tends to alleviate the hometown effect quite well. Lastly, the directors themselves have eyes out for budding cliques.  The authors of this blog take personal pleasure in promoting new friendships whenever we see the opportunity, especially early in the session when kids are still a bit nervous about their prospects.

Of course, camp counselors are always on the lookout for all first-year participants and know it is their job to bring them together in a friendly, welcoming fashion.  At every camp, the day is filled with informal encounters such as an invitation to play cards or ping pong, join an impromptu game, or just plain hang out. It might be counter-intuitive, but campers who go to camp alone (or if they come with friends, are open to experiencing camp independently and go to activities alone) are more likely to have their “radar” up and open to the often subtle signals of these opportunities to join the fun and make new friends. These are the moments when not being with buddies from home can give any child a real leg up in his quest for making new friends.

Bob and Rob Wipfler are father/son co-directors of ACA-accredited Kingswood Camp for Boys in Piermont, NH. Together they have over 101 years of experience at residential summer camps. They have co-written a blog series for ACA, “Camp 101,” since 2014. 

Photo courtesy of Kingswood Camp for Boys, Piermont, NH 

Sending your Child to Camp for all the RIGHT REASONS

Hi all… with camp closing in, we will be posting more and more regularly. Please check in every few days. We will begin our regular blogging schedule in about 1 month once we are all at camp.

There was an article recently published in the Washington Post making its way around Facebook and social media that I hope all parents will read, if you have not already. I have attached the link here (and below) and also emailed the pdf version to all of our Camp Kawaga families today.  The article succinctly and positively addresses some of the very real modern day benefits of camp. I encourage you to read the article and share it with your friends, particularly the ones that look at you cockeyed when you explain where your son is heading this summer.  boys having fun

Dewey and I are firm believers that overnight camp prepares your son (or daughter) for life. It does just get them into college, it prepares the for life in college and every day thereafter. Put another way, Camp Kawaga, and overnight camps like it, provides the crucial life experience and training that school can no longer provide.  We know there are many different options that can pull your son away from camp each summer, but we hope you acknowledge

Please read the full article “I send my kids to sleep-away camp to them a competitive advantage in life” here, and feel free to comment.

New Camper Orientation Video

Last week we hosted the New Camper Orientation. Many of you who could not attend asked us if we could record the gathering and WE DID. I believe you can hear everything sufficiently, even though you cannot see all of the visuals particularly well. If you have problems listening in, we also have just the audio that we can share with you as a type of podcast.

The information in here will let you in all the important information for you and your son as you prepare for your first summer at Camp Kawaga.

Preparing Your Child for Camp

Hello Kawaga families, April is here, and our always informative and fun New Camper Orientation is less than 2 weeks away.  Reminding you, the orientation is Sunday, April 24, 2016 with doors opening at 9 am at the Northbrook Renaissance Hotel, 933 Skokie Blvd, Northbrook.

With the start of camp just around the corner, Dewey and I will be sending out information on a regular basis – from helpful articles, packing lists, reminders and great tips. But the best place for this information will be our New Camper Orientation. So don’t miss it!!

Here is our first thoughts as camp closes in… your son may start showing signs of some nerves as the thought of camp and being away approaches.

We are confident your son’s upcoming summer at KAWAGA will be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of her life. He’ll have a wonderful time, make really good friends, and look back fondly as he grows older. Camp is quite different from ordinary life, however, and it can take some adjustment to get the most out of this time away from home. Over the years, we have learned a few approaches that help make this transition to camp life a smooth one.

11828692_10153364540945219_1065805599653257989_nLet your son know how excited you are that he is going to Kawaga!
Look over the camp materials/website together and talk about which activities he wants to try, particularly focus on new activities that he cannot do, or does not regularly participate in, at home. Learn about and become familiar with camp procedures and schedules by reading the Parent Camper Guidebook found in your CampMinder account.

If he hasn’t had much experience sleeping away from home or in a rustic setting, set up some practice times.
You might camp together in the backyard or have him sleep out with a friend, or even spend the weekend at a relative’s house.

11694848_10153349924945219_2688827486705964781_nIf your son is nervous about coming to camp, reassure him that you know that he will do great and that all of the other boys feel the same way. These feelings are entirely normal.
Even the campers who have been to KAWAGA for many years get a little anxious on opening day. Just advise your son to be friendly and open to trying what camp has to offer. Also, remind your son to tell his counselor (or any adult he is comfortable with) if he is feeling anxious or home sick.

Make sure he knows that everyone at home wants him to have a wonderful time at Kawaga, and in particular, that you would not have sent him to Kawaga if you did not know it was a great place for him to go.
Avoid comments like “You will have fun, but I am going to miss you so much.” You want him to be excited about camp, and fully engaged with it, instead of worrying about home and how much the family misses him.

Most importantly, stay away from making early “pick up deals” with your son.
One of the worst things that you can tell your son, under any circumstance, is, “If you don’t like camp, then I’ll come get you.”  Or any version of this promise. This type of decision puts a big weight on a child’s shoulders and typically sets him up for failure. It also puts our staff and Administration in a difficult position when we are attempting to work through the situation.  Your son will be so preoccupied and overwhelmed with deciding whether or not to go home, and your promise, that he will never fully embrace camp.

Listen to and talk about his concerns.
11873411_10153379843985219_3057223799046533505_nAs the first day of camp nears, some children understandably experience uneasiness about going off to camp. Rather than acting on what you believe his feelings to be, ask good questions such as: “We’ve been busy packing your gear. What are your thoughts about heading off to camp in a few days?” Communicate your confidence in is ability to handle being away from home, navigating this new challenge and remind him about “small victories,” successes he has experienced in other situations.

Have realistic expectations.
Camp, like the rest of life, has high points and low ones. Not every moment will necessarily be filled with wonder and excitement. Encourage your child to have a reasonable and realistic view of camp. Discuss both the ups and downs your son may experience. Your child should not feel pressured to succeed at camp either. The main purposes of camp are to relax and have fun.

A special note for your young camper:
Remember that your son will be in charge of taking a shower and washing his hair and brushing his teeth, along with keeping up with his belongings. Always a learning experience and an ongoing effort. If he’s new to this, it’s a good idea to take time practicing these skills before camp begins.

New Camper Orientation

Come one, come all to Camp Kawaga’s New Camper Orientation.  boys hanging pic

When: Sunday, April 24, 2016 starting at 9am

Where: Northbrook Renaissance Hotel – 933 Skokie Blvd, Northbrook IL – just south of intersection of Dundee and Skokie Blvd, just off Rte 41.

What: 9am – Meet & Greet with Matt, Dewey and Harry

9:30 am – New Camper Orientation

10:30 am – Parent only Q & A – campers will be out of the room with some Kawaga staff, playing games and meeting one another

11:30 am – Follow up one on ones

Every spring, Matt & Dewey host a great New Camper Orientation and Open House for any new families (or any parents that want a chance to chat with Matt & Dewey before summer). We will discuss all sorts of new camper and new parent items including

  • Reviewing the packing list and tips on packing
  • How to help your son get over pre-camp jitters, anxiety, separation concerns
  • How to prepare your son for some homesickness (it is completely normal, most campers have some homesickness)
  • What to say, what not to say to your son as camp closes in
  • More information about our program, our staff and what we DO at Kawaga that works so well
  • And your son can ask some questions that he forgot, or didn’t know to ask when we first met this winter

It is all great information that will help you feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed as we prepare together for a great FIRST SUMMER at Camp Kawaga! More details are also on our Facebook Event page – please mark that you are GOING on the Facebook event if you will be there.

Plan on being there – it is an invaluable preparatory step to camp and the summer of 2016.


First Day Jitters

I am so excited to have our first camper blog entry this winter! A few weeks back I asked our campers to submit Pineneedle articles to share with our camp families. We hope to be posting more of these in anticipation of summer (which is a bit tough to imagine given our wintry weather!).

As you’ll read below, Jono, age 11, writes about his first-day jitters and how he kept homesickness at bay. I love Jono’s story, because he’s so honest in describing his feelings. Even our most seasoned campers can feel a bit of homesickness. But, it always fades fast at Camp Kawaga. As Jono points out, there’s always people to help and “too much fun” to be had.

Jono, thanks for submitting your article. And, for you other Braves, we’d love to receive and publish your stories and articles. So, email me ( with yours. And, if we post your article to our blog you’ll earn points toward Mawanda or Sachem.



My name is Jonathan

I’m 11 years old, from Highland Park, Illinois

The summer of 2015, was my first Kawaga summer.


When I signed up, I was worried that I was going to get homesick and it would be hard to make new friends. I went to father-son weekend with my dad and I was very nervous the entire car ride. We drove down the long road into camp, wondering if I was going to have fun. The first person I met was a counselor, Jack, and he made me feel welcome because it was his first summer too. I went up the hill and I thought, I could like it here.

I went into my cabin to see if anyone was home and I met Sam and Alex and those first new friends made me think, it’s going to be a great summer, and I was right. I thought it was going to be hard but I was so lucky to make a lot of great friends in a very short period of time. I was so happy for the entire father son weekend. It was the best.

When it was time for my dad to leave, I got very nervous again and wondered if I was going to get home sick. We all went to the Rec Hall to do lip syncing karaoke, then the buses pulled up with the first four week campers. I ran to greet them. Little did I know, that I would have the best camp experience of my life and I know I made the greatest decision to go.

For the entire 4 weeks, I never got homesick because I was having way too much fun with my friends, the counselors and the best camp. So if you ever think that you will get homesick, trust me you will have way too much fun to think about it. If I ever started to get the homesick feeling, I just thought about all the awesome things we did that day and I can’t wait to hear revelry again.

The Gift that keeps on Giving

Want to know a gift that keeps on giving? Camp!


11800609_10153349875560219_1752664790332089233_nBelow is a great article from the American Camping Association, which I thought you’d find interesting and appropriate. It explains the many important “gifts” your child receives from camp.

The author, Peg Smith,  writes: “We often think if it looks like fun, it must be unimportant, but ‘fun’ is a young person’s ‘work’ — to learn, to grow, to be productive, creative, and happy. If they don’t do that work, they won’t turn into healthy adults.”

I think this is spot-on! The world, now more then ever, is full of “stressors” for our children. Their school workloads are far more rigorous than when we were children. Sports are becoming more and more demanding of their time and even more competitive. And social media has profoundly changed their world, causing anxiety along the way, as our kids try to navigate the new social order from grade school to high school.Kawaga campers

Camp is a safe place — an outlet, where fun comes first, where the biggest decision your son has to make is whether to go waterskiing first or play basketball with his friends. At camp, kids are unplugged, not checking (or even thinking about) Facebook or Instagram to compare their day to someone else’s. Life is simple and fun, and the learning that happens across the way is nurturing and affirming. Conversations are real and face to face, usually over a meal or during a game of catch or after “lights out” before peaceful sleep sets in. At Kawaga, as I watch as our boys get off the bus for that first day of camp, I literally see their bodies and minds relax. It’s like you see their shoulders go up and then down with a sigh of relief, as if they’re saying, “Aah summer!!  No more worries, no more stress.”  To me, there is no better gift you can give your child.

Camp=happy=best gift ever!11825133_10153349898745219_3494754604132498248_n

Here’s the article — enjoy!

— Dewey


The Case for Camp — Why Kids Need It Now More Than Ever

 Change is a part of life. It is often directly related to survival and can enrich one’s life in unexpected ways. Childhood is a time of profound change and development. It is exciting and disquieting at the same time. When it comes to our children, we need to be sure that change is made for the better.

We’ve been so concentrated on the brain, we forget about the rest of our bodies. This change in focus has led to an obesity rate that is unacceptable. Our kids are not as healthy as the generation before.

Families used to live in a community. We’ve lost that, keeping kids inside and losing a sense of neighborhood.

Add to that the fact that our kids stand to inherit all the economic, social, and environmental challenges we’ve created, and the legacy we have left our children and youth begins to look bleak.

So, how do we prepare our children with the skills and, more importantly, the competencies they will need to tackle changes in our world?  We should start with a positive camp experience. A quality camp experience provides our children with the opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, character-building, skill development, and healthy living — a meaningful, engaged, and participatory environment.

Camp promotes community. It creates this great space that shows kids how to live together and care for one another. There are norms and negotiation of boundaries; there are rules. Camp is a place where kids can “practice” growing up stretching their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive muscles outside the context of their immediate family. This is what childhood is supposed to provide.

Camp teaches critical thinking. We need to remember how important it is to be actively involved in the learning process, and camp affords that. We’re going to need really strong problem solvers in the next century. We need the science, math, and biology, but without the ability to relate, connect, empathize, or inspire innovation, how will our kids be able to make a difference in the challenges now facing us?

The camp experience embraces the natural environment. While children have fewer and fewer opportunities to be outdoors, the camp experience advances the outdoor learning environment. As we become more concerned about saving the planet, we run out and make DVDs and videos about it. But the environment needs to be experienced to be appreciated. Kids need to catch tadpoles in the creek, wander among the trees, and feel the sun on their faces to understand the importance of those things. What happens to a generation that may grow up not seeing stars in the dark of the night?

Camp creates future leaders. The camp experience offers kids a close-up look at compassionate leadership through the camp director, counselors, resident nutritionist, and other camp personnel. And kids get loads of opportunities to practice being a leader themselves — song leader, lunch table leader, team captain, the list goes on and on.

Camp is an equal opportunity life changer. It addresses universal childhood needs not specific to a particular racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group. Nobody is left out. It’s all about childhood development.

Camp has a lasting impact. One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a sense of success and achievement. Camp teaches kids how to be active participants, ask questions, ask for help, and try new things. They leave understanding that it’s okay to feel a little uncomfortable sometimes, because that’s generally what happens when you’re getting ready to learn something. The camp experience translates back in real-world experience — in an “I can” attitude.

We need to advocate for our young people. We should promote opportunities for kids — give them camp experiences that serve as an antidote for the world’s challenges. We need to recognize this is not a series of frivolous activities. We often think if it looks like fun it must be unimportant, but “fun” is a young person’s “work” — to learn, to grow, to be productive, creative, and happy. If they don’t do that work, they won’t turn into healthy adults.

Now more than ever, kids need camp. Visit to find out how you can change a life by helping make it possible for every child to have a camp experience.

Peg L. Smith is the former chief executive officer of the American Camp Association.

Let’s start the count down

Hello Camp Kawaga!!!

28 weeks until camp!! Counting the days makes it seem too far away, but counting weeks… it will be here in no time!! And we simply couldn’t be more excited!!

Big things are happening at Camp Kawaga….the new bathrooms and shower house are coming along and should be completed this month.  FUN STUFF – We are picking out tiles, faucets, sinks and more. They are going to look amazing!!

We are also working with contractors and architects on the plans for the new Mess Hall for 2017! AND we are starting to get ready for this summer – We have monthly meetings set with Harry and Jay as we start planning and filling the calendar with all your favorite activities and events. Matt is starting to send out contracts to get all your favorite staff back, and has already hired some great new international staff (g’day mate!!) we know you’ll love! Reunions are set, and camp is filling up!

So get ready, it will be here before you know it!!


To start the count down, we will be posting to our blog weekly, including great articles, tips to help you get ready for camp and more.  And we would like your help…

Returning Campers: You can write a Pineneedle article on a camp- related topic. Here are a few ideas to get you started (all Pineneedles posted to our blog will receive points toward Mawanda and Sachem):

  • Your favorite activity or evening program;
  • What you should definitely pack for camp and what to leave behind;
  • Why  you love camp;
  • Life lessons you have learned at camp;
  • First day jitters/homesickness (and how you overcame it); or
  • Interview with your favorite counselor or big brother.

Send your Pineneedle article to with a picture of yourself and a quick bio (home town, age, years at camp).

New Campers: Have any general questions or concerns about your first summer at Camp Kawaga? Send them to and we will have some of our returning campers answer them for you!

Also, if you have some news to share about how you or your fellow Braves are “Being Kawaga” during the off season, send it our way! I would love to “brag” about you:)

Hope you guys are counting down as well. 2016 is going to be AMAZING!!



Camp Kawaga – Registration for 2016 OPEN for all Sessions; New Families -Schedule your Home Visit today

Yes, it is that time of year again. While summer is a ways away, we start the planning now. It all begins with filling out your application for the summer of 2016. Early Bird pricing continues through October 15 and enrollment is well on its way. Returning families, log in to your Colton HappyCampMinder account to fill out your online application today. Your son will be so excited to hear the news!!


If you are a new family, and are ready to sign up, just email Matt at for the link to your online application.

If you are interested in learning more about Kawaga, contact Matt today to set up your home visit. We look forward to hearing from you soon.


Registration Opens 1 week from tomorrow

Hello all, just got back from a very productive trip up at camp. Progress continues on the Egypts as the old buildings all start coming down tomorrow. Look for some updated pictures later in the week!! Reminding everyone that Camp Kawaga 2016 Registration OPENS a week from tomorrow on September 8th. Mark it on your calendar. Spots will be filling up fast.

For our current families and staff, please continue to fill out the end of season online surveys. These will remain available for another 2 weeks. We really appreciate and want your feedback!! If you need the link again, just email Matt.