This article appears in Summer Camp magazine 2018.
Sleep-away camp is a big deal for both campers and their parents, and it often brings feelings of excitement and anxiety. Is your child ready for it?
“One way to gauge a child’s readiness for overnight camp is if the child has had successful overnight experiences away from home, at a friend’s or relative’s,” said Tom Rosenberg, president/chief executive officer of the American Camp Association. “Beyond those experiences, parents should involve their child in the search and preparation process. Reach out to the camp director and ask questions. If possible, tour prospective camps in person prior to choosing.”
Missing home is normal
“Homesickness is not a sickness. It’s normal for kids to miss home. Kids can have the most wonderful time at camp and still feel homesick,” said Corey Dockswell, director of Camp Wicosuta, a traditional four-week sleep-away camp for girls in Hebron, New Hampshire.
What’s most important is to take your cues from you child, Dockswell said.
“If they’re excited about camp, talk about what fun they’re going to have. Don’t put negative thought in their head,” she said.
What to look forward to
“The best thing is for families to stay positive,” said Jared Shapiro, director of Camp Winadu, a boys summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts. “Talk about all the friends they’re going to make, all the fun activities they’re going to do. What’s unknown is what often makes kids nervous, so discuss what they should expect.”
“Parents should discuss the info they’ve gathered in the search process,” Rosenberg said. “Discuss the answers that camp directors have given the family. Check out the camp’s website as a family and look at packing lists, maps of the camp, photos from last summer.”
How to stay in touch
Whether they’re going for a few weeks or all summer long, let your child know how you will be staying in touch, if it’s by letter, email or phone call, Shapiro said. Learn what the camp policy is so they will know what to expect, he said.
Make getting prepared fun
Take a trip to the store together or pack things from home to make their cabin a home away from home, Dockswell said. Kids will feel more comfortable surrounded by their favorite blankets and stuffed animals, photos of family and friends, and small games.
No pick-up deals
Avoid any suggestions that you will pick up your camper if he feels homesick or unhappy, all experts agreed.
“This conveys a message of doubt and pity that undermines children’s confidence and independence,” Rosenberg said. “The camp director and camp staff are your partners. If your child is homesick, feel free to call the camp and discuss ways in which you can work together to solve the problem.”
Make a fast getaway
When saying goodbye, the best course is to make it quick and easy, the shorter the better, Dockswell said. Prepare your child by telling them how it will go. For example, when you drop her off at the bus tell her you will give her a hug but you won’t be getting on the bus with her.
“Take a deep breath. Save those emotions for after the bus pulls away so your child knows you’re 100 percent behind the decision to go to camp,” she said.
Questions to ask
Camps accredited by the American Camp Association have voluntarily met up to 300 health and safety standards through a peer review, Rosenberg said. The American Camp Association recommends visiting the camp in person, if possible. This will allow the family to calm any fears and get a firsthand preview of the experience.
Other questions to ask when choosing a camp include:
- What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis?
- What is the camp director’s background?
- What training do counselors receive? What is the counselor-to-camper ratio?
- What are the ages of the counselors?
- How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues?
For more information, visit acacamps.org.