Is Your Child Ready for Overnight Camp? Are You?
Many families ask us the question: how do we know when our child is ready for camp?
Countless research studies, over many years, have shown that overnight camp builds independence, self-confidence and self-esteem for your child in ways that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Camp is a great opportunity—when both you and your child are ready.
There are ways to gauge when your child is ready. As we’ve also learned over the years, it’s important for you to figure out when and if YOU—as a parent—are ready, too. The timing isn’t always the same! But if you’d like sleepaway camp to be in your family’s future, there are ways for everyone to prepare.
First, some indicators that may give you a better sense about your child:
Spending an overnight away from home is an important step towards the concept of overnight camp. If your child actively seeks out sleepover dates with friends, especially ones at other friends’ homes, this is a great indicator that they could enjoy an overnight camp experience. Many of our youngest campers describe the camp experience as one big sleepover party.
Does your child ask, on their own initiative, about coming to camp? That’s always a wonderful indicator. Often an older sibling, other relative, or friend may raise your child’s own interest and curiosity.
Does the possibility of heading to camp with a familiar friend change your child’s perspective? If your child can bypass anxiety about “Who will I know when I go there?” and “Will I make any friends?” then the first summer can feel like a much easier choice. Many families first identify a friend of the child’s and explore camps together.
What About You?
Of course, the decision to send your child to overnight camp might be most challenging for you as a parent. Here are a few things we recommend in this (common) situation:
Get to Know the Camp Directors
You’ll feel much more confident sending your child to camp when you know and trust the camp leadership. As you look at camps, get to know the camp leaders, ideally in person. Don’t hesitate to be direct and honest with the camp professionals you speak with; ask as many questions as you need to ask. The better you know the people to whom you are entrusting your child, and the more comfortable you are, the more you will feel good about your decision.
Ask for Names of Other Camp Parents
Talk with families who have been in your shoes. If you know families whose kids attend a camp you are exploring, reach out to them. Otherwise, ask camps to connect you with the parents of second-summer campers who can tell you candidly about their own child’s first-year experience. While every child and family is unique, you may learn quite a lot from other parents.
Picture Yourself Here
Get a taste! Every camp offers tours during the summer, when camp is in session and you can get a true feel for the experience. At Surprise Lake Camp, we also offer two Rookie Days where campers can spend a day at camp—each one gets a camp “buddy” to explore alongside—including lunch, swimming, and activities. Parents can take a morning tour, talk with the Directors, and then enjoy a day in the area before picking their child up at the end of the afternoon. (A little summer vacation for everyone in your family!)
Shorter Sessions for New Campers
Many camps are introducing short sessions to help first-time campers ease their way into the experience—or start at a younger age more comfortably. At Surprise Lake Camp, we offer 5-day, 10-day, and 2-week options (depending on the child’s age) in addition to our regular 4- and 8-week sessions. Sometimes these just-right sessions let a child feel great about saying, “I don’t want to go home!” and “I’m ready for more next summer!”
Are you thinking about overnight camp for your first-time camper? Please check out our programs for First Time Campers and be in touch. We are happy to answer any questions and tell you more about the SLC experience.
Sheryl Kirschenbaum is SLC’s Camp Director. Have questions for Sheryl? Email her or call her at 845-265-3616.