Families are constantly barraged with information about summer camps–from magazines and emails to news headlines and parents talking on the sidelines at little league. Sometimes it is hard to separate fact from fiction. You will want to know what is true and what is not as you answer the all-important question, “What will I do with my children next summer?” To help guide you, here is a list of myths and facts about summer camps.
Myth: Overnight camp is only for the rich.
Fact: Camps abound to fit every budget. And, if you plan ahead, you can take advantage of early enrollment discounts and financial aid. Applying early can potentially lead to a 20-50 percent discount off camp tuition, based on need. Private camps tend to be more expensive, so contact camps run by your local government or agencies like the Campfire Boys and Girls, Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Salvation Army. Lastly, inquire about shorter sessions and discounts for multiple children attending from one family.
Myth: Only I know what is best for my child.
Fact: It is tempting for us–especially if we are former campers–to try to recreate our own camp experience for our child. While the saying, “mother knows best,” is true in most circumstances, some input from your child is the best approach when choosing a camp. Involving the child in the camp research may produce unexpected results. Maybe you think an all boys camp is the best place for your son, but he may want the opportunity to make friends with girls in a relaxed setting. You may think your daughter wants to be at a camp that specializes in art and drama, but maybe she wants to improve her tennis game this summer. Be open to the unexpected.
Myth: If I send my child to camp with a friend, it will make her more comfortable.
Fact: What outwardly seems to provide a safety net has its pitfalls. A friend can sometimes act as a barrier to your child’s making new friends. All too often, one of the campers has a difficult time. The other child then feels responsible for the friend, which can be extremely burdensome. In addition, your child may choose his activities based upon his friends’ interests rather than his own. It is important to weigh the comfort of going with a friend with the possible drawbacks. If going with a friend is the only way your child will try camp, it might be worth it. Just prepare your child with possible scenarios and provide him with the problem solving strategies.
Myth: A specialty camp–rather than a traditional camp–is the best place for my child.
Fact: Specialty sports camps focus on teaching technical skills, not necessarily life skills. A child goes to this type of program to work on the skills for one sport (or for the art form or for drama, etc.) rather than to be part of a community found in a traditional camp. Parents should not make the mistake of thinking a specialty camp will necessarily provide counselors who take care of a homesick child. The coaches and instructors at specialty camps are there to teach skills, not to help your child make a new friend.
Myth: A one-week session is the best way to ease into an overnight camp experience.
Fact: Sometimes the parents set a child up for an overnight camping failure by offering unnecessary suggestions. These include, “I will pick you up if you are unhappy,” or “Let’s just try this camp for one week to see how it goes.” Children need a chance to feel homesick and get through it with the help of counselors and individual coping mechanisms to feel successful about a camp experience. One week barely gives a child a chance to find their way around a camp, much less feel the tinge of missing mom and dad (or the family dog). A two-to-four-week introductory session allows the child to be immersed in the daily routine of a new and safe place, build friendships that will continue until the next summer, and feel the success of doing something totally on their own.
Myth: My son plays sports all year long, so I want to give him a break from the routine.
Fact: While it is a nice break for some children to fish and hike at camp, others just want to play ball. Parents should look for a camp that can provide the sports that the child enjoys, plus some new challenges that the parents might want for their child. Summer sports are far different from sports during the school year. There is less emphasis on winning. A child who can’t make the select baseball or soccer team at home may shine in a camp environment. There are no “helicopter parents” hovering above their children or yelling on the sidelines. Whether it is up to bat or on the boat, these camps hire counselors who serve as role models to teach qualities like good sportsmanship, teamwork, and lessons to lose gracefully.
When the time comes for choosing a camp, there are many questions to ask. It is important to ask the right questions and get the facts so that you can provide the right fit for your child. Once you have accomplished this, the investment will provide you and your child with lifetime rewards. Happy camping! ■