Ask parents about their most treasured summer memories, or ask your children what they want to do this summer and most likely, you’ll get the same answer: overnight camp. Perhaps it’s partially due to the popularity of overnight camps in pop culture, for instance, Disney Channel’s Bunk’d, or perhaps it’s the fact that the one thing children look forward to more than anything in the summer is freedom.
It’s possible that overnight camps are on your radar for consideration this summer. According to Dr. Michael Thompson, author of Homesick and Happy, “Some six million children in the United States are preparing psychologically to go away to sleepaway camp.” Additionally, parents take all the necessary steps to make sure their children are prepared for camp. But, are you, the parent, ready to send your child away this summer?
Here are some tips to be sure you’re just as ready as they are:
Before you dive in headfirst to a month long overnight camp, consider starting small. You can start by choosing a camp within driving distance that offers a few nights at a time. From there, you can do what experienced camp mom Jill Abadie did and try a weeklong camp for your child. “We were a little hesitant with a month-long camp beginning in the third grade, so we enrolled them in a weeklong camp first. Since they handled that experience so well, we felt more comfortable with them spending the full month away,” Abadie shares. The important thing to consider is that every child is different, and you can choose what is best for each child, whether it’s a three day, weeklong, or month-long camp.
Do Your Research
Since summer camp options are often discovered by word of mouth, Riverview Camp owner Susan Hooks says to start by asking other parents about their experiences. Many parents sending their children to overnight camps have gone to the same camps themselves and are eager to share. Once you find a few camps you and your child are interested in, do some research and get a feel for them. Does it reflect your values or your concept of what a camp should be? Are you comfortable with the atmosphere and the programs the camp has to offer? Knowing that other parents have had successes with their own children at certain camps can also help ease your mind.
Meet the Owners and Directors
Camps often reflect the values and personalities of their owners. Try to meet or talk with the owners or directors of the camp and get a feel for their interest in your child. Hooks recommends attending local camp fairs, where you can meet several owners and directors from a variety of camps in one place. Many camps also offer “Camp Parties” where you can get detailed information on the camp and ask questions while introducing your children to the camp staff first hand. Some questions to ask include: What does the camp do in case of a physical emergency or weather emergency?; How do they handle communication (phone calls, emails, packages)?; and What is the camper to staff ratio?
Finding a camp with open communication can help you to feel more comfortable with your child being away. Most camps allow emails, letters from home, and care packages, and some even post daily newsletters and photos. Local mom Blair Purgerson says that it’s always nice to receive letters from the counselors, but the thing she looked forward to most were the pictures online. Purgerson says, “Most camps offer a secure site where you can login to view daily pictures from the campground. I love scrolling through the pictures of their activities each day, and getting excited when I find one of my daughter. It helps me to see what she is doing and know that she is having fun.”
A little communication preparation beforehand can also give both you and your child peace of mind about going away. Another local mom Paula Dawson wrote a letter for each night that her son would be gone, and placed them in an envelope labeled with the day of the week. “It was fun for him because through the letters, he felt a constant connection with us, and we felt confident he knew we were thinking of him on a daily basis,” Dawson says.
When making the decision to send a child away to camp for the first time, it’s natural for parents to feel anxious. Some parents feel uncomfortable with their child spending the night at a friend’s house, so the thought of sending them away to camp might be intimidating. However, parents who have sent their children to camp would argue that the benefits far outweigh the concerns. Abadie says, “Summer camp provided my children the opportunity to break out of their normal routine and broaden their horizons away from the temptation of technology, developing leadership skills, and lifelong friends.” Many camp moms simply want their children to develop their own set of treasured memories to cherish as they have. Purgerson says, “Camp was a second home to me, and if our goal in raising children is to prepare them for life and to help them be functioning, independent, members of society, then this is a great step.”
Margaret Lee, owner of Camp Fern, seconds this notion by quoting Hodding Carter, “There are only two lasting gifts we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.” With a little preparation, you can send your child away to camp feeling just as excited as they are when they soar! ■
We did the research so you wouldn't have to. Get a little more comfortable with the idea of overnight camp for your child by checking out our camp resources online.
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