Camp Kawaga Blog

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.


Saturday Sermon: Burt Chaikin

Burt Chaikin is a long time camper and counselor. Burt’s passion and love for camp is incredible. His dedication to camp and the Kawaga way is appreciated by camper and staff alike. A true Brave through and through. At our Saturday services Burt shared his thoughts and feeling about the meaning of camp, paying it forward and carrying on tradition with our campers and staff. We are so lucky he did, this is a read you don’t want to miss. This is Kawaga, enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom.

For those of you that think I like to talk a lot, this might come as a surprise to you… but I really really did not want to give this sermon. Seriously, I tried very hard to get someone else to do it instead. I did not want to give it. I really really did not want to write my counselor message the other day. And I really really really do not want to leave this place next weekend. Basically I’m just trying to avoid doing anything that would force me to start facing the reality that after 13 summers, I may be entering my final, final week of camp. My last Saturday service, my last league games, last blue-gold cup, last banquet night, last all-nighter, last time searching every other cabin for my not-washed laundry that was dispersed to everyone else, last open areas driving boats, final tapping ceremony, final bugle calls, final staff show, final cheers in the mess hall, last small and big powwows, and my final days with my kids that I’ve watched grow up since they were 9 years old.

I don’t really know how to contemplate all of this or how I could possibly put it into words. There aren’t words to describe that feelings that are starting to sink in. I don’t know my summers without Kawaga or my winters without having Kawaga to look forward to. While I have no idea what the future brings, I do know that there is no place in the world that could have prepared me more for it.

Every year, I grew, learned, loved, worked, and laughed more than I had the summer before and am a much better person because of it. My childhood lives and breathes in these woods. 13 years is a very long time… at any other place but here. Here, it’s way too short.

If I could do this job for the rest of my life, I would. I feel like people search their whole lives to find something that means as much to them as Kawaga means to me. I’m very fortunate to have learned what it means to be passionate about something and to know what it feels like to care about something this deeply.

When I spoke during the parents weekend sermon a few years ago, I had to keep re-iterating how tough it was for me to put my thoughts on Kawaga into words. As I’ve gotten older and have had to start to explain to more and more people why I’m not in LA during the summer interning, or why I’m back at a place after some of my best friends no longer are, or why I feel no need to respond to any outside world commitments while I’m up here, it’s forced me to start to consider why this place is so difficult for others to understand. And the answer is because camp is not just a place, it’s an energy, a feeling.

In that last sermon, I explained the meaning of a Native American word: “svota.” And what svota means is “when the invisible becomes visible.” So for example someone may ask, “What’s beautiful?” And then you see a sunset like the ones we have here and you say, “Oh, that’s beautiful…” These moments of Svota are probably the best I can do in order to describe camp to somebody who’s never experienced it. The only way I was able to express what Kawaga is was to people who had never been here was to describe distinct moments:

The rush a chip gets when their name is announced in the mess hall for getting their miracle, that’s Kawaga. A camper memorizing the ideal for the first time—that’s Kawaga. That same camper finally understanding it’s meaning, that’s Kawaga. The opportunity to talk to your best friend while they are sitting in a bathroom stall next to you, that’s Kawaga. Going to free swim with someone you just lost to in an 88-0 league game; doing the fork in the garbage disposal at the top of your lungs; and going nuts for chip burgers—all uniquely Kawaga. The sound of reveille is Kawaga and the feeling you get looking up at the stars each night here is Kawaga too.

The reason I bring this up is because when you get towards your final years on staff and start to think about your experiences here at camp, the way you will remember camp is also simply by these moments of svota. These little fleeting feelings are all that remain with you of camp.

As I said 2 years ago, Kawaga is a magical place. It’s where dreams are born and goals are achieved. It’s where history is constantly being written and where the stars shine brighter than ever. It’s where the word “can’t” simply isn’t an option, where treasure hunts last all night, and where miracles happen every day. Kawaga’s where pirates come to life, where Chips are bananas, and where a feather represents a thousand memories. It’s where everyone is a kid again. Most importantly though, and this is why camp is more important than ever, Kawaga’s where even the shortest of moments become sacred again. When you hug your best friend after a hard-fought cups tennis match, it matters because that’s a moment that teaches you what camp is really about. When the powwow music plays and everyone goes silent and starts walking in one direction with headbands and feathers on, it matters because it’s a Kawaga moment.

It matters when a counselor wakes you up and gives you food because for some reason Domino’s tastes a thousand times better at camp. When you get to recite your sachem name at a powwow, it matters because you’re the only one that will ever do that and a name given to you when you were 9 still fits you as a 21 year old. It matters when I see Gordon Olim teaching Cole Olim the ideal for the first time because I had Gordon as a camper and saw him learn it for the first time and only 2 years later, he’s already part of the tradition of passing it on even as a 12 year old. It matters when everyone gets excited for Jailbreak because it means we are all excited together, and it matters when we make fun of Jay for being short and he smiles about it because that means a chip who isn’t so tall might be able to be secure enough to do the same when he’s on staff and then one of his campers will 10 years after that. Cheering matters and so does calling the bathrooms Egypt, going silent during flag matters and so does Rocky IV club. Calling the Omni the Omni matters, watching sunsets and breakfast club too. Saying grace and not shooting another basket at the 15, polar bears and the dirt you get in your sandals on the way back; odds are, Seiferts mess-ups, Saturday services, juice mustaches, ski staff names, inspection, Tolf championships, Mohawk Madness, noodle hockey—it all matters. It all matters because Kawaga matters to us and if those things matter to us, Kawaga will continue to matter to others. Take care of the memories you love so that we can keep passing on the spirit of Kawaga.

It’s important to recognize this because these little moments are what make camp what it is… But they don’t just happen. The spirit of this place continues on because campers and staff alike find what they love about camp and make sure to continue it on. This place is like no other in the world because since 1915, Braves have come and gone, but most with the understanding that what they are leaving behind is much bigger than themselves. My counselors and elder campers who learned it from their counselors taught us and we now are trying to teach all of you.

The goal is to leave this place better than we found it. I read a quote once that said, “real education educates us out of self into something far finer—into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.” So I guess that means I have Kawaga to thank for giving me the most real education I could ever receive.

A lot of people said to me that I better not be using this sermon to say goodbye. The truth is I could never do that, because I’ll never say goodbye to this place. It’ll always be with me no matter where I am. So, braves, in this final week, I want to give you all a goal: I want you to find something that you personally love about camp. Find one of those moments of Svota. And then as you continue to come back to camp, make sure that you spread the love of those moments to others. Find what matters to you here, figure out why, and make sure it keeps mattering to others.

I talk to my campers about a phrase that I love: “From The Feet Up.” It means to live camp with every step. Finding these sacred moments is just that, living camp with every step. Hold Kawaga sacred and keep it close to your hearts, because life will pull you in a lot of different directions, but these moments of Kawaga will always bring you right back home.

Thank You.