Sleep away camp is a big deal! The first time being away from home is a significant milestone for kids – and parents. How can you ensure the best experience possible? Read on!
Here are 7 tips for preparing your child for sleep away camp:
Make sure they’re ready.
“You know your child is ready for sleep away camp when they begin to ask about it,” says Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the American Camp Association, a 100+ year old organization dedicated to promoting quality camp programs. Some kids begin asking about camp as young as seven or eight and for other kids that might be nine, ten or eleven. “One wonderful way to practice being independent is to have sleepovers with friends or spend a significant number of nights visiting relatives away from mom and dad,” says Rosenberg. “That’s a great way to gauge their confidence level and readiness.”
Find a camp that fits your child.
“Part of the conversation when you are interviewing camp directors is trying to figure out if this camp is a good fit for my child,” says Rosenberg. “There are so many types of camps and so many types of kids. Don’t be shy about asking, ‘what type of child does well at this camp?’” Rosenberg notes that it’s also important to send your child to a camp that you feel 100 percent confident in. “Camps aren’t regulated at the federal level,” says Rosenberg. “They’re regulated at the state level and every state is different. One way that you know you’re considering a camp that has met the minimum standards recognized nationally by courts of law is to find out if the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association.”
Visit the camp for a firsthand impression.
“I always encourage parents to visit a camp while it’s in session to actually see the camp in action,” says Rosenberg. “It will really help your child connect the dots and see the fun and it will help mom and dad narrow down which camp to send their child to.” Rosenberg points out that parents and their future-camper will need to plan ahead and visit the camp the summer before their child plans to enroll, when camp is in session.
Prepare kids – and parents – for a summer without devices.
Camp is a community without technology. That usually affects parents more than kids, explains Rosenberg. “Your daughter or son is at camp having a blast. Pretty soon they forget about having a device. But Mom and Dad are still at home and wondering how their child is doing. I find that for many parents they struggle more with a child not having a device than the child themselves.”
Discuss communication before your child leaves.
Since your child can’t just call you to check in, it’s important that they’re clear on how they can communicate with you while they’re away. “Every camp is a little bit different,” says Rosenberg. At most camps, good old-fashioned snail mail is encouraged. But some camps offer e-letters, a system where Mom or Dad email letters to their child that the camp prints out. When the child writes back, their letter is scanned into a PDF and emailed back to the parents.
Go over the camp rules beforehand.
“Most camps will publish a Camp Parent Handbook which will have all kinds of important information and tips about how to prepare your child for camp,” says Rosenberg. The handbook will also cover what to pack, how to label personal items, handling medications and more. “Parents shouldn’t delay reading the handbook with their child,” says Rosenberg. It’s also important to discuss with your child the communal responsibilities they’ll have while they are away. “Everyone has responsibilities every day at camp,” explains Rosenberg. “Kids contribute to cabin cleanup, they pick up their clothes off the floor and put them in the laundry bag, and they’re responsible for keeping track of their own stuff.”
Prepare for homesickness.
“Have a conversation about homesickness and acknowledge that homesickness is a normal process that every human being has when they have their first separation from their parents,” says Rosenberg. It’s also important to let your child know that they can’t come home just because they’re feeling homesick. “Camp directors will probably tell you not to tell your child that they can come home if they don’t like it,” says Rosenberg. “It doesn’t help a child try very hard if they’re at camp and they know they can pull the parachute rip cord any time they want. It takes work just like anything else settling in to it and giving it a chance.”
For many kids, going to camp is the highlight of their summer. Make sure your child will be a “happy camper” by planning ahead with these simple tips. Then send them off for an experience they’ll never forget!