Should she or shouldn’t she? Making the summer camp decision is a BIG deal — especially when it’s about sleep-away camp. It rivals the decision you made way back when to start potty training. In both cases, you and your child must be ready to take on a new adventure together. If you are considering overnight summer camp for your kids, then you have come to the right place. We have all the details you need to know before taking the registration plunge.
BENEFITS OF RESIDENTIAL CAMP
Residential camp is a unique place that offers many benefits to campers. For starters, the camp environment is very nurturing — it gives kids a sense of community and encourages participation through fun, structured activities. Kids get a true sense of belonging and responsibility that is nearly impossible to create in the home environment no matter how inclusive and service-oriented your home environment is. Campers are surrounded by young adults, usually young professionals or college-goers on summer break, whose only job is to engage campers. Camp counselors are screened to be positive role models and they have the potential to be great influencers by offering the simple gift of time to your kids. So often as parents we do not have the luxury to just relax and do nothing with our kids. At sleep-away camp, time is plentiful, therefore kids are afforded the opportunity to relax and reflect.
Kids who attend sleep-away camps do activities in teams or groups, and it teaches them to learn to work well with others while also having freedoms to make individual choices. Upon returning home, you may find that his ability to cooperate with peers and siblings improved after overnight camp. Camp teaches kids to take responsibility for themselves and for the camp community. For example, many camps often have daily chores for campers to help with such as cleaning the mess hall, cleaning latrines, building the bonfire or performing in a flag raising ceremony. Campers who go to a residential summer camp display increased self-reliance and confidence especially when interacting with adults other than their parents; the list of benefits never ends.
According to Peter Scales, Ph.D., author, and psychologist, “Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment,” he says. “Most schools don’t satisfy all of those needs.”
The benefits are immeasurable because kids learn life skills at sleep-away camp.
BUT IS HE READY?
There are obvious signs that indicate when he is ready for a residential camp — it’s a big stepping stone for any kid. Try to look for these telltale signs that he is ready to be away from you for an extended period:
√ Can he shower/bathe himself?
√ Can he independently brush his teeth, get dressed, brush his hair and use deodorant?
√ Can he read proficiently? Typically, campers are given a schedule and daily agenda. For a successful camp visit, he will need to be able to read the schedules and get where he is supposed to be at a certain time of day. If the answer is, “No,” then you might want to think about getting him a wristwatch or getting him used to using an alarm clock in the mornings. Self-sufficiency is the goal before going to camp; living at camp enhances these skills at home.
√ Does he cling desperately to you in new social settings?
√ Does he struggle with eating?
√ Does he experience bedwetting? If he has difficulty controlling his bladder, then ideally this skill should be mastered first.
THE BEST AGE FOR CAMP
Age is not the single most important determining factor of readiness for sleepaway camp, however, the average age for kids to begin attending overnight camp is between 7 – 10 years old. What matters more is the child’s maturity level. A very mature 7 year old could be self-sufficient enough to go to a residential camp, while a very immature 10 year old could be too insecure to manage themselves away from home. Age has little to do with the homesickness some campers experience. Homesickness — acute psychological distress when separated from home and loved ones — is typically seen in inexperienced campers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that parents involve their kids in the process of choosing and preparing for camp. In addition, they highly recommend having open dialogue about homesickness. The AAP stresses that parents be positive about upcoming experiences to avoid doubt or concern. Kids need to know that their parents believe in their ability to be independent. So, give lots of pep talks before the big drop-off day — he can totally do this without you!
If he needs to practice, then arrange time to do away sleepovers before camp and then frame the upcoming camp experience with one of his most enjoyable experiences away from home. Positive memories of time away from home will give him positive vibes right from the get-go. Remember, the purpose of sleepaway camp is to experience new adventures and meet new friends. Some trepidation about camp is normal, but an overnight camp is probably the wrong type of stress for you and your camper if you are answering, “Yes,” to anything on this checklist.
There is no set timetable for sleep-away camp; every parent-child relationship is different and if the answer is not this year, then it will be something to work toward for next summer.
“Some kids are ready to rock four weeks away at age 8, but some won’t feel comfortable with two weeks away at 11,” says Allie King, owner and director of Camp Arrowhead.
“We are passionate about residential camp because it really allows kids to develop independence and discover who they are outside of their family. It also lends itself to better bonding with fellow campers and skill development,” she adds.
HOW CAMPS ARE STAYING SAFE
Health and safety are of the utmost importance at summer camps. Research potential camps’ health and safety protocols and be sure you fully understand. Summer camp registration entails submitting health history records and an updated physical, so be ready for that. Submitting highly detailed health information is normal, so be sure to check with camps on what paperwork you will need to complete prior to sending off your camper.
With the pandemic still in play this summer, most viable summer camps have created a COVID-19 mitigation plan. Your camp’s mitigation plan should address pre-arrival screening, mask requirements/expectations, social distancing plans, sleeping arrangements, personal hygiene accommodations, dining operations and accessibility to health care services for your camper.
To learn more about how camps are handling COVID-19, head online to the American Camp Association’s COVID-19 Resource Center. The link to the resource is found by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage acacamps.org.
SO … ARE YOU READY?
All-in-all, if you are thinking about sending your kiddos to a residential camp, do your homework. Research camps and find a few great places that you are comfortable with and then ask your child how he feels about it. Open dialogue is key to helping both of you to feel invested in the adventure of summer camp.