This article appears in Summer Camp Guide 2020
Whether your child is filled with excitement or feeling a bit anxious, summer camp can be an amazing, life-changing experience, especially with tips from camp experts.
While families tend to focus on which activities are available, the setting or amenities, the most important consideration should be whether the camp is a good match for a child.
“Ultimately what makes a great camp experience is the fit between the camper and the camp,” said Jake Schwartzwald, director of Everything Summer, a nationwide service that helps parents find camps for their children.
Find a good fit
“My biggest tip for having an amazing summer camp experience happens months before camp begins: It is picking the right camp,” said Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez, Jewish camp initiative manager at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “There are so many options out there and not every camp is right for every kid, even in the same family.”
“In the right environment (specific activities) don’t matter. A child will make friends, have fun and build a general feeling of confidence,” Schwartzwald said.
Take a step back
“Summer camp is filled with growth experiences, but those can often be challenging for children,” Schwartzwald said. If a child is not picked for a role in the play he may feel rejection. If another camper sits on a child’s bed without permission it may cause a fight.
While parents often feel the urge to jump in and solve children’s problems, they should have faith that camp staff can handle tricky situations, Schwartzwald said.
“It can be hard for parents when they get a letter home describing a less-than-perfect experience, but have faith the camp can help. Allow the child to navigate these situations on their own,” he said.
Making new friends
Friendships formed at summer camp are different than other childhood friendships.
“Becoming friends while living together is unique; it’s not a playdate or even a sleepover,” Schwartzwald said. During these hours of togetherness children are able to form a sense of community that is life changing, he said.
A new you
“Camp is also a place where kids can reinvent themselves,” Schwartzwald said.
At home friendships often happen because kids are pushed together in school, religious groups or family circles.
“Camp is different because you’re meeting people for the first time and making friendships happen,” he said.
It’s also a chance for a child to try on a new persona. For example, someone known as an athlete can take center stage during talent night without other kids questioning why they’re doing something different, Schwartzwald said.
For parents of kids who are shy, anxious or have special needs, Schwartzwald said, it’s crucial to communicate these personality traits to camp staff.
“Parents can be reluctant to share, but camps want this information in order to put the right support in place,” he said. For example, it can be as simple as situating a nervous camper on a bunk closer to the cabin counselor.
“Overnight camp is an adjustment for any child, even the most precocious,” Schwartzwald said. To prepare kids for a great experience, talk about it beforehand and meet or Skype with a counselor in advance so they know a friendly face when they arrive, he said.
Stick with it
“No matter how homesick you are the first few days, don’t ask your parents to come get you,” Scholten-Gutierrez said. “Homesickness is completely natural and even expected, and it will get better as you settle in and the counselors and staff become your second family.”