Planning summer camps for your kids can be a daunting task. Here are tips on preparing them, becoming a camp counselor and how to pay for it all.
Preparing Happy Campersby Jan Udlock
Going to a sleepover camp is a milestone for children. Kids will make fast friends and experience new ideas. They’ll eat foods that they would have never tried at home and develop more self-confidence. Sleepover camps gives kids a great opportunity to learn new life skills, too. If your child is anxious about the thought of going away this summer, do some thinking, planning and talking now, so you can enrich your child’s experience before it even begins.
Is Your Child Ready?
Parents will generally know when their child is ready for a sleepover camp. Every child’s temperament is different, so age should not be the determining factor. “The parents should look at their child’s attitude toward being away from home as well as their child’s personality factors,” says Frank Sileo, Ph.D., author of Bug Bites and Campfires: A Story for Kids About Homesickness (Health Press NA Inc.; $14.95).
Just because you went to a specific camp as a child does not mean this camp will fit your child. A parent needs to evaluate whether this camp will meet your child’s disposition and talents. Parents should never force their child to attend a camp.
Which Camp is Right?
There are various camp locator organizations found on the Internet such as campparents.org, summercamp.org or campsearch.com where parents can investigate a variety of camps. Talk among friends and family members to find out about different camps for your child. You can also check with local sources like the newspaper, family magazines, and parks and recreation offices in your community.
It is important for your child to be part of the selection process in order for him to be on board with the choice. What special interests does your child have? Explore different camp websites, pamphlets and brochures with your child. Have discussions with your child about his goals for camp. What does he want to do and get from camp? “When children are involved, even in a small way in the decision-making process, they will experience increased feelings of control,” says Sileo. They will be more comfortable with the final decision.
Check out the camp with your child and speak with the camp director to get a feel for the camp culture. Visit the camp and look for cleanliness of facilities and interaction with children, find out how the staff is selected and what criteria is used.
Talk About Apprehensions
It is common for most kids to experience homesickness at some time during their camp stay. Before camp, talk with your kid and let him know it’s OK to miss home and the family. “Children often feel they are the only ones experiencing a negative feeling,” says Sileo. This gives him permission and helps the adjustment.
Role playing helps kids think through situations that they have not experienced before like finding a flashlight at night to run to the bathroom or asking his counselor for help. When parents provide simple life applications, kids will become more confident to handle new situations.
Take a Friend?
Going to camp with a friend has its pros and cons. Attending camp with a friend may help a shyer child take the step of attending a sleepover camp. However, your child may cling to his friend and not explore all the opportunities at camp if he’s with a buddy.
Build the Excitement
Tell your child about the fun that he’ll have at camp. He’ll learn new crafts and play new games. “Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious,” says Peg Smith, CEO of American Camp Association.
Kids love to hear stories about their parents and when they were “young.” Tell them stories about your positive camp experience and what you learned. You can also share about the independence a child will gain by staying at camp. “Families can also encourage healthy separation, like overnight visits with family and friends, throughout the year,” says Smith.
As a parent, you’ll have apprehensions when your child first goes away to camp but it’s a normal part of the growing up process. Remember the camp director and staff are trained to deal with homesick kids. If you have a concern about your child, he will more than likely surprise you on how well he does at his first time away. “In reality, 99 percent of kids flourish without the parent,” says Sileo.
Sleepover camps promote growth and independence. At the end of camp, you’ll meet your kid at the bus or find him in a crowd and the first thing he’ll say, “When can I go again?”
Jan Udlock is a freelance writer who has five children all of whom have gone away to camp.
Camp Counselors in Training
by Myrna Beth Haskell
Is your young teen insisting that she’s too old to attend camp this summer? On the other hand, are you thinking that summer camp is better than just hanging out all day? Your teen may not be old enough to get a summer job at a local retail store, but she can participate in CIT (Counselor-In-Training) programs at one of the many camps throughout Ohio.
These are programs designed for young teens who are serious about assuming the responsibility and effort it takes to work with young children in a camp setting. There are usually a limited number of openings, and some camps only consider those teens who have been “campers” in previous years. Therefore, you will need to inquire about this as you begin to research local camps. The application process varies from camp to camp as well. It can be as simple as filling out a form to going on an interview and submitting references.
What CIT Programs Are All About
Counselor-In-Training programs (sometimes called Leadership Training programs) are intended to train teens to become future counselors, leaders and mentors. There are a variety of responsibilities given to these trainees and the scope varies enormously from camp to camp. Some of these might include: organizing and planning activities, leading teams in various projects, helping out with camp maintenance, assisting counselors with office work, assisting at various athletic activities, etc. These trainees are usually still considered “campers,” but they assume more responsibilities and are given leadership roles at the camp.
Most teens in CIT programs are still considered minors and are not paid. Counselors-In-Training usually pay a “camper’s” fee, but this fee is often reduced. The teens are expected to split their time between being a camper and spending time working as a CIT. Counselors-In-Training at day camps are usually 14 to 16 years old. Resident camps (overnight camps) usually expect applicants to be 16 or 17, because teens cannot become a senior counselor at an overnight camp until they reach 18. In some of these instances, the CITs are paid a stipend or given “tips.”
Benefits for Teens
Teens who participate in CIT programs reap many benefits, gaining confidence in themselves and their special abilities and talents. Most camp directors expect that CITs will learn leadership skills, develop responsibility and competency, acquire a strong work ethic, gain decision-making skills and learn to be part of a team working towards a common goal. Teens also learn the value of being positive role models and mentors for younger kids. These programs serve as a release from the academic pressures teens are faced with during the school year, yet they still provide an excellent learning experience.
The completion of a CIT program also looks great on college applications. Participation shows a willingness to work hard and take on the responsibility necessary to work with young children. In addition, program directors produce great references, because they can write about a trainee’s strengths and accomplishments in detail.
The Application Process
The application process varies from camp to camp. Some require interviews and references. Others only accept applications from teens who have been “campers” in previous years. Therefore, it is important to call the camp you have in mind prior to applying.
Camps are looking for teens who are excited about becoming mentors to younger kids. So it is imperative that your teen lists any experiences she has had in this area. Babysitting, tutoring younger students and community service positions (such as reading to youngsters at a local library) look great on an application. Teens should list skills or sports they are good at on their application as well. For instance, if a teen has lots of experience with tennis, a camp director might foresee using her as an assistant coach in his tennis program.
Finding the Right Fit
Your teen will have a better experience if the camp she chooses fits her abilities, skills and interests. You should ask your friends and neighbors about camps that their children attended, particularly if they participated in CIT programs. It is always good to hear from someone who has experienced the program first hand.
If you do not have access to such references and you are not familiar with the local camps (maybe your family has recently moved to a new area), a good place to start is with the American Camping Association (ACA). Every camp is not right for every child, and members of the ACA visit the camps every summer and see first hand what the camps are all about. Parents can contact Wanda DeWaard, section executive at 888-829-2267. If possible, visit the camp in person before sending in an application.
Whether your child goes on to become a counselor or utilizes her experience at a completely different job in the future, attending a CIT program at a local camp is a great way for young teens to garner leadership skills that will last a lifetime — and have fun in the process!
Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer and mother.
How to Afford Summer Camp
Paying for a child to stay at summer camp can be tough on many families, especially if they’re considering three weeks or more. Many camps offer several options for your child’s stay. You may even consider just a one-week stay. Whatever your decision, be sure to start as soon as you can.
Over the years, families have learned that starting to plan for summer camp is best just after the holiday breaks. February seems to be the most popular time to begin the process.
More and more parents will be seeking assistance to make camp a reality for their kids this year. That reality includes cutting back on family vacations, requesting scholarships and exploring options with financial aid.
According to the American Camp Association (ACA), the more than 12,000 sleep-away and day camps in the country means that there are a wide number of camps to suit every budget, but every budget today is a lot worse off than in years past. In some cases, non-profit camps such as the Boys & Girls Club might waive fees for families who can’t afford to pay. Churches, synagogues and social service groups also offer low-cost or free options.
Limiting your options to day camps, rather than a round-the-clock sleep-away, is a fast way to slash spending. With various fees, day camps can cost around $275 a week, while sleep-away can cost about $780, according to the ACA.
Another way to cut costs is to pick shorter sessions. Many camps offer a menu of programs that run between two and 10 weeks. Don’t worry about short-changing your child — he’ll still get plenty of the same benefits whether he attends for one week or six. At camp, kids learn how to form social bonds and how to fit into a new situation away from home — which doesn’t take months or an elite program to achieve.
Once you settle on a camp, negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Start by talking to the camp director. Every year, camps give away more than $39 million in scholarships, and 90 percent offer some form of financial aid, according to the ACA. Don’t be shy about asking camp directors what type of aid is available. If camps won’t (or can’t) lower their prices, then see if you can arrange for a payment plan rather than paying everything up front — which many camps require. You can also see if the camp will let you barter your “volunteer time” for cheaper fees. For day camps, another money saver is to not participate in the camp’s meal program — instead packing a sack lunch can whittle down costs.
Check with your employer. Your company may offer flexible spending accounts for dependent care, which typically lets workers set aside up to $5,000 to cover costs such as child care (including day camp, but not sleep-away camps). In 2008, 84 percent of large companies offered the benefit, according to the business consulting firm Mercer.
So start thinking about summer. It might seem far off, but camps often offer deep discounts to families who sign up in advance. Early enrollment for the following year can begin just a week or two into a session.
While parents are being more discriminatory and deliberate in their decisions regarding money, it’s smart to ask, “Is this a good investment?” The answer is yes, investing in an experience that allows your child to grow and learn is always worthwhile.