When Is A Camper Ready For Overnight Camp?
Is your child ready for overnight camp? Are you ready? A successful first-time overnight camp experience depends largely on expectations, yours and your child’s. It’s probably nothing like what your child has seen in movies! While exciting, it’s also perfectly natural to have feelings of apprehension and anxiety.
Here are some things to keep in mind that can help as you prepare your child for the first sleepaway camp experience:
At a certain age and stage of development, children need independent, empowering experiences away from the safety net of home in order to develop certain life skills. If you haven’t done so already, you might start with a sleepover at the home of a friend or relative to test the waters. Most children are ready for such an experience somewhere between the ages of seven and nine, but it really depends on the individual. We had a young 5-year old boy join us for a month from New York City one summer. He loved every minute of it and returned every summer well into his teens. That's quite unusual for a 5-year old!
Independence and Self-care
Is your child able to care for herself and handle responsibilities like basic hygiene, household chores, and homework without being constantly reminded? Can your child make independent decisions about things like what to wear and what to eat? Does your child work well with others? Is your child comfortable meeting new people? A certain sense of independence is essential, and the camp experience will build on that independence.
When you talk about camp, is your child enthusiastic? Set your child up for success by talking openly about things that may cause anxiety. Meeting new people can be a terrifying prospect, but the reward is new friends. Learning an unfamiliar activity may cause feelings of inadequacy, but is there also a desire to try? At nine years old, I remember feeling terrified by the prospect of my first camp experience, until my ultra-intuitive father realized that a simple lesson in archery might be all I needed to alleviate that fear. The more you are able to draw out and discuss your child’s fears now, the more likely your child will have a positive, impactful camp experience.
Expect homesickness. Expect separation anxiety. As a parent, part of ensuring a successful camp experience means letting go, allowing your child to grow and process those uncomfortable feelings independently. Don’t try to gloss over the reality that you will miss each other. Have a conversation about it. Sometimes kids are worried that things at home will change while they’re away. “How on earth will Mom and Dad and my little sister and our family pet manage without me?” Talk about what an incredible opportunity this is for your child, making new friends and experiencing grand adventures. Assure your child that it is perfectly normal to miss home and family, but instead of focusing on what will be missed, focus on all the incredible things that will be happening at camp. While at camp, your child’s counselors and other adults will of course be available for guidance.
Be sure you understand the camp’s policy on phone calls home. Talking to mom and dad isn’t necessarily the best fix for homesickness. If you do get a call from your child, be prepared to support the camp experience. Avoid telling your child how much you miss him/her, but instead ask your child to share all the fun things that have been happening at camp. Most overnight camps offer a vacation from electronics. In other words, your child will likely be separated from that precious cell phone.
If you would like to discuss any specific concerns, contact your camp. If you haven’t yet decided on a particular camp, you are more than welcome to contact us with questions. And at some point, you just have to take that leap of faith and trust that things will work out. Good luck!