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Summer camp is a time-honored tradition, rich with new activities and newfound friendships. Want to make your child's camp experience smooth from start to finish? Read on.
More Than Just Fun
According to the RAND Corporation, a non-profit research organization, children who participate in summer programs like experiential learning activities offered in an organized camp, are less likely to experience a significant summer learning slide.
Camp also enhances a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Activities build social skills, teamwork, and independence, all of which contribute to shoring up self-confidence.
“I often hear from parents how amazed they are when their children return home after spending time at camp,” says Doug Berkel, senior program director of youth development services with the Kansas City YMCA. “They seem older and more mature.
Avoid Camp Run Amok
First, together with your child, find out what he’d like to experience and choose a camp that fits his needs and interests, as well as your family’s values.
Look for overnight camps accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). “ACA standards are the most universal and well-known standards adopted by most camps to ensure a quality and safe program,” Berkel says.
Day and specialty camps should carry a current state childcare license. Additionally, staff should be trained in emergency, communication, and safety procedures, behavior management techniques (including handling the common bout of homesickness), and child abuse prevention.
Day camps are a practical way to introduce children ages 5 to 10 to the camp experience. Most have a theme, be it sports, science, nature, or the arts.
Ann Bowley says when her stepson Trevor was younger, he enjoyed planning out the day camps he wanted to attend each summer. However, as her son got older, he grew more apprehensive about starting over with a new group of kids each week.
“We talked to him about it and he never changed his plans. We just looked for schoolmates that might be in camp with him to help him be more comfortable,” she says.
Specialty camps center around one activity like music, art, sports, or science. These provide children the space to further explore and develop a skill that interests them. They might run part of a day, as an addition to a day camp.
Overnight camps, typically in an outdoor setting, can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and are generally offered for children ages 6 and up. If you aren’t sure your child is ready, allow him to spend the night at friends’ houses occasionally. Or, as Berkel suggests, take advantage of a weekend family visit, usually offered in the fall or spring, to familiarize campers and their families with the facilities and staff.
Conquering Camp Blues
Preparation and awareness of what to expect can ease the transition from home to camp. Go over a list of everything your child will need, then pack a physical connection to home like a favorite pillow or stuffed animal. Be aware that your child (yes, even the confident ones) may experience homesickness.
Fourteen-year veteran Boy Scout leader and father of eight, John Whiteside, is a camping pro. Over the years, he and his kids have participated in multiple camps. He says initial nervousness is common. But if your child whines to come home, consider the situation and encourage him to discuss his worries with the camp counselor instead of taking action. “Tell him ‘Yes, today was hard, but I think it will be better tomorrow.’ Usually, tomorrow is better,” says Whiteside.
Finally, be positive; chances are your child will return a happy camper with a heightened sense of self-confidence and a passel of new friends to boot.