My first grader is about to start going to a day camp where he needs to wear a kippah. I never thought about this until it was in the camp packing list! He has never worn one outside of shul, and I have to admit that with COVID, we haven’t gone regularly in a while. How can I get him comfortable with wearing one, and how will he not lose it? And what if he refuses?
First graders at camp are all going to be at wildly different developmental stages as well as having different experiences with Jewish observance. Throw in the fact that today’s 7-year-olds were only 5 when the world shut down, and I feel entirely confident that your son will not be alone in his unfamiliarity with wearing a kippah (the traditional Jewish head covering, also called a yarmulke).
Over the days leading up to the first day of camp, talk about kippot at home. Show him pictures of himself wearing one from before the pandemic if you have any, or show him pictures of other people he knows wearing one. Even more importantly, give him the chance to try on different kippot around the house and to decide which one(s) he’s going to bring with him. Just like nearly anything else with kids, having his buy-in will help with compliance, and giving him some say in the matter will help make him feel like what he’s wearing at camp is in his control.
Even while letting him choose which kippah to wear, though, don’t offer anything irreplaceable or sentimental. This goes for anything you’re sending to camp, by the way: don’t send it if you absolutely need to see it again. You can try to use clips or barrettes, you can opt for larger sizes that are more likely to stay on and you can talk about responsibility and keeping track of belongings, but expect that whatever goes to camp may not come back.
If refusing to wear a kippah is a likely outcome, check in with the camp now. Ask how they introduce the concept to the youngest campers, how required it really is and whether a baseball cap or similar is an acceptable compromise. Ask what they do when a child refuses and what the consequences are if wearing one ends up being totally unrealistic this year.
You’ll learn a lot about the camp’s attitude toward kids in general and toward religious observance specifically, and you’ll also have the opportunity to think about your priorities as you figure out how you want to discuss wearing a kippah with your son.
Good luck, and be well,