By Denise Yearian
Residential camp a wonderful, growth-filled experience that provides your child with invaluable life lessons on how to be independent, responsible and make diverse friendships. So how do you go about choosing the right sleep away camp?
First talk it over with your child and discuss his interests. Finding a camp with activities he will enjoy is important, but it’s also great place to try something different. Encourage your child to try new experiences. Just because he likes soccer doesn’t mean he might not enjoy learning a new skill, such as arts and crafts.
Next explore the options. Find out about programs each camp offers and ask questions. Sometimes parents find out whether there is quality instruction and enough time for their child to participate in the said activity and stop there. Take time, however, to learn about other segments of the program too. What concepts or philosophy does the camp espouse? What will my child do through the course of a typical day? If the camp has a brochure, read it carefully, then match it to your agenda and the experience you want for your child.
To determine if your child is developmentally ready for residential camp, do a trial run. Send him to visit a relative for the weekend. How did he do? Did he sleep well? Was he able to care for himself (brush his teeth, taking a bath, change his clothes)? Did he adjust to new or different foods? These and other questions will help you decide if your child is ready for the residential camp experience.
On the first day of camp, help your child get settled, then leave; don’t stick around too long. If you drive your child to camp, he may cling to you on the way up. Remember, this is something new, and it’s natural, even for a veteran camper, to be a little hesitant. Once there, however, many kids will shift from clingy to embarrassment in front of their friends, and parents are often slow to pick up on this.
Even before sending your child to camp, mail him a letter. This way he’ll have something to open when the mail arrives on the first day. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a note saying you’re thinking of him and hoping he’s having a good time will do. If your child doesn’t write back during his stay, don’t take it personally. Camp is a full-time job for kids. Some may be inclined to share it all with their parents, others will get so caught up in the moment that promises to write are forgotten. If you don’t hear from him, it probably means he’s having a great time and enjoying his newfound freedom.
Whether your child goes to camp for one week or the whole summer, send a care package. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just something to let him know you are thinking of him. Just be sure if you are sending food, you know what the rules are about food in cabins, as it could attract bugs and outdoor creatures.
Several weeks before camp, keep your child’s schedule open and stress-free. This will allow him plenty of time to relax and prepare for the big event. In short, plan major summer events like family vacations and camp with a break in between.
Avoid purchasing new clothes for camp. Chances are they’ll get soiled, stained or mildewed before they get home – if they even get home!
On the last day of camp, arrive on time, and come prepared with a few extra plastic bags. You may need them, especially if your child has wet clothes or muddy shoes that need to be transported.
On the ride home, listen to your child as he shares his experiences with you. And if you look really close you may find he’s grown a little. Not just in height, but in depth of character. Camp has a way of helping kids grow by boosting their self esteem, increasing their sense of responsibility and helping them mature in their relationships with others.
Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and four grandchildren.
5 Benefits to Attending Sleep Away Camp
- Foster Independence. Residential camp is an ideal place to learn independent living and self-responsibility. Out from under their parents’ shadow, campers are expected to get up, go to bed and attend scheduled events on time, as well as keep their cabin area clean.
- Practice Kindness. Sleep away camp is a good way to put character-building skills learned at home into practice. Here, kids have an opportunity to show empathy toward others in need, such as sharing shampoo or toothpaste with someone who forgot a toiletry item, or extending kindness to a camper who feels left out.
- Make Diverse Friendships. The residential camp community is the perfect platform for children to step outside their normal social circle and forge friendships with kids from other parts of the state, country – even the world. And with the widespread use of electronic communication, it’s easier than ever for these friendships to continue to grow long after camp is over.
- Venture Out. Many residential camps offer atypical activities that may not be available at day camps, such as overnight hiking trips, wilderness adventures, etc. Activities such as these challenge kids to take risks under trained supervision, using appropriate safety gear.
- Take a Tech Break. More often than not, children are instructed to leave their tech devices at home before coming to camp. This can turn into a big bonus, as it gives campers the opportunity to work on other communication skills, such as letter writing, and real “face time” with other campers, as well as ample time to enjoy planned camp activities.