Summer camp can be an excellent opportunity for children and teens to grow and develop. While at camp they learn to be more independent and build self-confidence. It’s a chance to improve social skills, learn about nature, enhance sports skills, and learn cooperation and responsibility while having fun engaging in active outdoor activities.
The following article is a guide for parents about summer camp and how to make it a positive experience for their children. Topics include:
- Is my Child Ready?
- How to Choose the Right Camp
- Creating a Summer Camp Checklist
- Pre-Camp Jitters: How to Talk to Your Kids about Homesickness
Overnight Camp – Is My Child Ready?
As the school year nears an end, you may be thinking about what your children will do during the summer. This is particularly an issue if both parents work. Your child may be asking to go to an overnight camp, and you may wonder if they’re truly ready.
Perhaps you never attended camp when you were a child, so you don’t have a frame of reference. You may not know how to determine your child’s readiness. Here are some ideas to help you to make that decision.
Take your cue from your children. In many cases, they’re able to determine their readiness before a parent can. If they’re interested, they just might be prepared to take on this new adventure!
Has your child spent the night with a friend or relative before? Children who have been away from their parents before are more likely to be good candidates for an overnight camp experience. However, if this is your child’s first overnight camp, see if any of their friends are also attending so they’ll be less likely to experience problems.
Consider sending your child for a shorter session for their first time at overnight camp. Your child may have more success with only one or two weeks away, instead of the four to eight-week sessions which were common in the past.
How responsible is your child? Can they keep track of their belongings and wash their clothes if they’re going to be away for several weeks? Are they capable of using camp money to purchase things they need rather than candy or other junk food?
Each child is an individual. Even if you were eager to go to overnight camp at nine-years-old, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child will when they turn the same age. If they’re uncomfortable spending one night at a friend’s house without calling you, then they aren’t quite ready for overnight camp.
Is your child comfortable seeking help from other adults or authority figures if you’re not around? Children who are still attached to their parents often want help only from those with whom they are comfortable. A child with this tendency may need more time before going to overnight camp.
Picky eaters may also have difficulty with overnights. The staff may prepare special meals for a child with allergies or religious beliefs, which limits what they can eat. However, they’re not likely to make a special meal for a child simply because they don’t like what’s served.
If you ask other parents how they could tell if their child was ready for overnight camp, you’ll likely get different answers. When it comes to staying overnight, you’re the best person to determine if your child is prepared. Read the following tips to help guide you, but then ultimately trust your child to know if they’re ready or not.
Tips on How to Choose the Right Camp for Your Child
Even though it’s not yet summer break, before you know it, school will be out, and your children will be looking for things to do. If you’ve considered sending your kids to summer camp, here are tips on how to choose the right one.
If your child has never been to summer camp, now is the time to begin thinking about it. Give yourself plenty of time to do research–this will ensure you choose the best option. Ask friends and relatives whose children have gone to summer camp for their suggestions. You can also look online at websites such as Go Camps, Christian Camps and Conference Association, and the American Camp Association for listings.
There are also several free summer camp options throughout the United States for families on a budget:
- Parks and Recreation Department Camps
Many local parks and recreation departments offer day camps for free or at a very low cost to families who qualify. Check out your town or city website for information.
- Apple Camp
Kids ages 8–12 will explore their creativity through fun, hands-on projects across four tracks ranging from coding to art & design. Check out your local Apple store for more information about this program and whether it’s offered in your area.
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Many local organizations offer free or reduced fee camps for kids of all ages with a variety of activities ranging from photography and singing classes to STEM programs.
- Museum and Library Programs
Several local museums and libraries offer programs for kids throughout the summer for free. Check out your local museum and library to learn what they’re offering this season.
- STEM Programs Grades K-8
There is a vast variety of STEM programs offerings around the county that are tuition-free or offer scholarships to kids.
- Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program
This is a free 7-week introductory computer science program for 10th-11th-grade girls going into their junior or senior year of high school. Participants learn about computer science, gain exposure to tech jobs, and join other girls who are using computer science to become change-makers.
What to Consider Before You Make a Camp Selection
There are a number of types of camp to consider. Resident camp is for children ages 7 and older who will stay in cabins or tents. Day camp is for children ages 4 to 7 who aren’t ready to stay overnight. Specialty camps concentrate on a particular activity. Special needs camps are for children with mental, medical, or physical limitations. There is usually a higher counselor/camper ratio in these settings to ensure child safety. Length of sessions can vary from a few days to as long as the entire summer.
What do you need to consider when searching for a summer camp?
- Cost. If the camp costs more than you can afford, it may not be a good choice this year.
- Location. Local camps may be the best choice if your child has never been away from home–they’re often less expensive, too.
- Staff. This is probably one of the most important aspects to consider. Is the camp director trained? What is the ratio of staff members to campers? How does the organization hire counselors and what type of training is required? How do the camp counselors interact with the campers?
- Activities. Be sure to get your child’s input. Since they’re the ones who’ll be attending the camp, you’ll want to choose one which offers activities your child will enjoy. Some camps emphasize horseback riding, water sports, or outdoor survival skills. If you find one which offers activities your child enjoys, and it’s within your budget, write down the information to compare it with others.
- Facility. If possible, go to the camp before you make your decision to check out the facilities. Are they well maintained? How many children will be in each dormitory or cabin?
If you aren’t able to visit the facility, you may want to scour their website if possible. Quite often a website will answer any questions you might have, contain photographs, menus, and schedules. Some will also offer a virtual tour and map to get a better idea of the surroundings.
The above tips on how to choose the right summer camp for your child are the minimum to consider. Take your time comparing camps, and you’re sure to find one that meets your child’s needs. Once you have made a selection, get the necessary paperwork so you can secure your child’s spot.
How to Create a Summer Camp Checklist
Summer camp can be such a great experience for children and sometimes their parents. After you’ve made your choice about which camp your child will attend and made all financial arrangements, it’s time to gather items to pack. The facility may send a checklist of items each camper will need but just in case they don’t, here’s how to create a summer camp checklist.
A day camp packing list would include a swimsuit, towel, sunscreen and lip balm. Toss in insect repellent, a hat, two filled water bottles, comfortable tennis shoes, sandals, at least one extra set of clothing, and a raincoat or umbrella.
If your child has serious allergic reactions or is taking prescribed medication, this should also be on the list. To ensure staff is aware of your child’s situation and can deal with it properly, talk to the camp director beforehand and also include a note to explain how medicine is administered to your child.
Check to see if the day camp will provide lunch and a snack. If they aren’t offered, pack a sandwich (not peanut butter–most camps avoid peanuts because of allergic children), a piece of fruit, and juice in a box. Avoid sending chocolate as a snack, choosing granola or an energy bar as an alternative.
It would be a good idea to bring along a snack when you pick your child up. They’ve been busy all day and will probably be hungry and thirsty. Having something available will also be cheaper and healthier than stopping at a drive-through on the way home.
Overnight camping requires the same basic list as for day camp except more is added. Begin by knowing how long the camp lasts. Many are one to two weeks, but some are longer. Pack twice as many socks and underwear as the days of the camp if washing machines aren’t available.
Here’s what you’ll need if laundry service is available. One t-shirt for each day of the week, several sweatshirts or a jacket in case it gets chilly, a pair of shorts for each day of the week as well as two pairs of long pants, two pairs of long pajamas, two pairs of comfortable shoes (tennis shoes or hiking boots) and a pair of flip flops for showering.
Include toiletries such as shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, hairbrush and comb, two washcloths and at least two towels. Also list feminine supplies if your child menstruates, a disposable camera, and a fishing rod and tackle if fishing is an option. A government-approved lifejacket that fits properly is necessary if swimming or canoeing is planned.
A pillow, sleeping bag, bed linens, and an extra blanket should also be included. Add a heavy-duty piece of plastic for putting under the sleeping bag or sitting on if the ground is wet. Don’t forget to pack a flashlight with batteries.
There are some items that should remain at home. These include chewing gum, a cell phone, money, an mp3 player or other music devices, and handheld video games.
You’ll want to label everything your child takes with their name. Waterproof markers are fine for most things, but you can also find press-on labels for clothing. Several pre-addressed and stamped envelopes or postcards are also a good idea along with a pen or pencil. A book or two for downtime or a rainy day would also be useful.
Pre-Camp Jitters – How to Talk to Your Kids about Homesickness
Experts will tell you it’s normal for children to be a little scared when going away to summer camp for the first time. It’s even common for them to be homesick. If your child is having pre-camp jitters, here’s how to talk about homesickness.
Explain to your children that you won’t come to get them unless there’s an emergency or unless it’s the end of the session. While it may be normal for children to be homesick, as well as for parents to get kid-sick, they need to stay the course.
If you do talk with your child, don’t mention how much you miss them or give them bad news. Ask them about what they’re doing, if they’ve made new friends, and what their favorite part of camp is.
Reassure your child that other children are probably feeling the same way, especially if they’ve never been away to camp before. Knowing they’re not the only one to get homesick will help them feel less like they’re being a baby.
Ask your child what is giving them the jitters. Some children worry about being away from friends and family. If they’re very attached to their pets, this may be another reason they’re having second thoughts. Listen to your child’s concerns and see if you can find a plan to deal with those issues.
Take out any literature you may have or visit the camp’s website to remind your child about why you chose this camp, how excited they were about going, and all the activities they were looking forward to doing.
Suggest they talk to friends who have been away at camp. They may have ideas to help your child cope with homesickness that worked for them.
Think back to an occasion where you felt homesick as a child. Tell them about how you felt but explain that you soon overcame your homesickness because you were having such a great time.
Reassure your kids that no matter how far apart you are from the rest of the family, you love them, you’re proud of them, and summer camp will be over before they know it.
Before you drop your child off at summer camp, talk with their counselor or camp director. Ask them what their procedure is for very homesick children. They’ll be able to determine if your child is homesick enough to warrant a call to you or not.
If you’ve prepared your child by using the ideas above, they probably won’t be as homesick as they think they’ll be. It’s not uncommon for children to have pre-camp jitters, but knowing how to talk to your kids about homesickness may make the jitters go away.
So there you have it, a complete Summer Camp Guide for Parents. We hope that your child makes wonderful summer camp memories this sumner that will last a lifetime!