We all know the reasons to send our kids to camp—gets them active, develops independence, makes incredible memories—but questions and concerns about summer camp still abound for many parents. What age is right? What type of summer camp should I send my child to? How do we as a family prepare for camp? Dr. Laurie Hollman, psychotherapist and author of the book Unlocking Parental Intelligence, offers this advice:
At what age should I send my child to camp?
The answer to this question is complex and really depends on the individual child. For parents of pre-schoolers, consider your child’s physical capacity to withstand a day of constant activity in the heat. “Between swimming, crafts, singing, drama, kickball, etc., summer camp provides a constant swirl of events, which works wonderfully for some children, but not all,” says Hollman.
For all ages, consider the following:
- Does your child enjoy a range of different activities?
- Is your child open to new experiences and pushing his or her comfort zone?
- Can he or she make friends?
- Does your child follow instruction and cooperate effectively?
At what age should I send my child to sleepaway camp?
Again, the answer is complex and really depends on the individual child. Consider if your child has had experiences sleeping away from home and how they’ve reacted. Usually this occurs by ages 7-9, but remember each child is individual. Consider the following:
- Has your child had a sleep over at a friend’s house or a relatives?
- What’s your child’s general attitude about being away from you?
- What’s your own level of separation anxiety?
- How has your child succeeded at day camp? You’ll want your child to understand what camp’s about before you send him off for a few weeks.
What type of camp should I consider?
There are more options today than ever before—from your common local day camps to themed, religious, sports and sleepaway camps. The possibilities are endless. Here’s what’s important to know for each:
Themed Camps. Themed camps usually last for shorter periods of time so they give more latitude for parent and child. To consider: While your child may be doing what he or she truly loves, does the camp’s timing work for your needs as well.
Sleepaway Camps. What’s the communications plan for sleepaway camp? A good camp sends frequent updates, doesn’t allow for cell phones so that kids can let go and integrate, provides comfortable phone time and encourages frequent letter or email writing.
Day Camps. Have you looked into the camp’s history and philosophy? Many camps have been around for generations with seasoned staff and thousands of happy campers. Additionally, many camps have philosophies—culture, arts, leadership, teamwork—that are weaved into all activities.
For all camps, be sure to look into:
- The ratio of campers to counselors.
- The qualifications of counselor, the minimum age and how are they trained.
- Accreditation by the American Camp Association
- If the kids are swimming, is there time for free as well as instructional swim.
How to prepare for camp?
When you start researching camps early in the year, start talking about camp with your child.
Once you have real information about the camp, express all of the fun and excitement that comes with the various activities available.
If your child is going to sleepaway camp, begin to talk to them about the idea of going away.
Don’t show worry. There is the good chance those worries and fears will rub off on your children.
Consider sending your child to camp with a friend. Especially the self-conscious or introverted child may need a buddy to feel they belong with and can depend on for some nurturance while venturing forth into making new friends.