Summer camp—for many kids, just the thought of it evokes feelings of excitement and adventure. The opportunity to experience new activities, gain independence, and make lifelong friends is one that shapes childhood memories and builds character. However, for parents sending their child to sleepaway camp for the first time, the experience can also bring up feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. How do you choose a camp that is safe, fun and the right fit for your child's needs and interests? This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to find a sleepaway summer camp your kids will love.
Determine Your Child's Interests and Needs
The first step is to determine what your child is interested in and what their needs are. Some questions to consider include:
•What activities do they enjoy? Sports, arts and crafts, outdoor adventures, etc. Choose a camp that offers programs in their areas of interest.
•How independent are they? If it's their first time away from home, a camp with strong counselor support may be better. As they get older, they may be ready for more self-guided activities.
•Do they have any special needs or medical conditions? Make sure any camp you're considering can properly accommodate them.
•How long are they ready to be away from home? Start with a shorter session, around 1-2 weeks, and build up from there as they get more comfortable.
Determining the right fit based on your child's level of independence, interests and needs will help ensure they have a fun and memorable experience at camp. The key is finding the right balance of activities, support, and duration for their age and abilities.
Research Camp Options
Once you have a better sense of what you're looking for in a camp, it's time to start researching your options. Some of the best ways to research include:
•Asking for recommendations from friends, family members or your child's school. Personal referrals can provide trusted insight.
•Checking websites like American Camp Association, YMCA, or Camp Channel to find camps in your area that match your desired location, activities, and duration.
•Looking at online reviews from sites like Yelp or Google to learn from other parents' experiences. But take extreme reviews on either end with a grain of salt.
•Following up with phone calls to ask questions about safety, activities, staff experience, and more. Speaking with a director will give you the best sense of fit.
•Attending an open house or camp tour to get an in-person feel for the facilities, meet staff, and determine if it's the right environment for your child.
With some research, you can find a shortlist of camps that meet all your criteria. From there, you'll want to consider costs, compare programs, and determine which is the best choice for your child's first sleepaway camp experience.
Visit Top Contenders
Once you've narrowed down your options to a few top choices, visit the camps in person. A site visit is the best way to get a feel for the environment and make sure the camp is a good match for your child's needs. During your visit, consider the following:
•Do the facilities, equipment, and activities meet safety standards and appear well-maintained? Ensure proper supervision and staffing levels for activities.
•Do the counselors and staff engage with the campers? Look for signs that the staff cares about the campers and are focused on their needs. Meet with directors and ask about staff experience and training.
•Does your child connect with the culture and activities? While visiting, see if they gravitate toward certain activities or interact well with counselors and other campers. Their enthusiasm and comfort level will tell you a lot.
•Are you comfortable with the level of care and supervision? For their first time away from home, look for a camp that provides the right amount of guidance and independence for their abilities and maturity level.
•Do the camp's values and policies align with your own? Review information on discipline, homesickness, nutrition, medical care and more to make sure you feel good about the camp's approach.
A site visit may require extra time and planning, but it will give you peace of mind that you've selected an exceptional camp that suits your child's needs. With the right camp, their first sleepaway experience will be one they cherish for years to come.
Prepare Your Child for Camp
Once you've enrolled your child in a camp, start preparing them ahead of time. Some tips to help them have a successful first experience include:
•Visit the camp again together so they know what to expect. This can help alleviate anxiety over the unknown.
•Practice some separation beforehand. Have them spend time away at a friend's house or with grandparents to get used to being away from home.
•Discuss what camp will be like, including activities, cabins, and daily schedules. The more they know ahead of time, the less uncertainty they'll feel.
•Go shopping together for any gear they may need. Letting them choose some items will boost their excitement and independence.
•Role play potential situations like homesickness. Practice coping strategies they can try if they start to feel upset while at camp. The skills will build their confidence.
•Pack comfort items from home like a stuffed animal, blanket, or photos of family and friends. Having familiar comforts will help them adjust to camp life.
•Most of all, have a positive and encouraging attitude about camp. Your enthusiasm will help them see it as an adventure to look forward to.
With the proper preparation and support, you can ensure your child's first sleepaway camp experience is a success. Though it may be difficult to say goodbye, the independence and memories they'll gain will last long after the summer ends. By choosing a camp that suits them well and setting them up for success, you'll give them a gift that shapes them for years to come.
When the time comes for your child to head off to camp, it's normal to feel anxious and emotional. Some tips to help you say goodbye include:
•Stay positive and upbeat. Your child will likely mirror your emotions, so smile, laugh and keep things lighthearted. Save any tears for after they've left.
•Keep goodbyes brief. Don't drag them out or make a big production of leaving. A quick hug, kiss and "have fun!" will make things easier on you both.
•Reassure them. Remind your child that they will have a great time, you know they can do this, and you will see them again soon. Your confidence in them will help keep theirs high.
•Take care of yourself. Do something for yourself after you leave like grabbing coffee with a friend or doing light exercise. Keeping your mind occupied will help the time pass more quickly until they return home.
•Write letters or postcards. Send some mail for your child ahead of time so they receive it while at camp. This can boost their morale and give them a piece of home to hold onto.
Though the separation may be difficult, keep in mind the tremendous benefits of sleepaway camp. Your child will gain independence, learn new skills, develop confidence in themselves, and build friendships to last well beyond the summer. Staying positive through your goodbyes will ensure their experience gets off to the best start possible. With your love and support, they'll return home changed for the better, filled with amazing memories of their summer adventure.
Packing for Camp
Once your child is enrolled and prepared for camp, it's time to start packing. Sending them off with the proper gear and essentials will make their experience that much better. Use the camp's packing list as a guide, but also include some extras to keep them comfortable. Some recommendations for packing include:
•Clothing for a range of activities and weather: t-shirts, shorts, athletic wear, pajamas, sweatshirt, jacket, rain jacket, etc. Don't forget extras like socks, underwear, and comfortable shoes.
•Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, brush, comb, towels, etc. For younger kids, consider packing extras in case anything gets lost or forgotten.
•Bedding: sleeping bag, pillow, sheets, blanket, etc. Check with the camp on their recommendations for bedding based on facilities.
•Other essentials: flashlight, bug spray, sunscreen, backpack, water bottle, books, stationary, stamps, pens/pencils, etc.
•A few comfort items from home like a stuffed animal, photos of family and friends or a favorite blanket or toy. Having familiar items will help combat homesickness.
•Any medications need to be in their original containers with instructions. Don't forget over-the-counter meds like bandages, pain relievers, anti-itch cream, etc.
•Consider packing a pre-written letter or card to give your child when you say goodbye. Your note can reassure them of your love and support.
•Label all items with your child's name to prevent losing anything while at camp. You may also want to label items inside their luggage in case bags get mixed up.
•Have your child help pack so they know what's included and feel more prepared. Let them make some choices to build excitement for the adventure ahead!
With the proper packing and preparation, you can feel confident sending your child off to camp with everything they need for an amazing experience. Though it may be difficult to say goodbye, knowing they have familiar comforts and necessities from home will help put your mind at ease. Before you know it, they'll be returning home, filled with stories of summer camp and memories that will last forever.
Picking Up Your Child From Camp
The weeks at camp will fly by, and before you know it you'll be picking up your child! Picking them up and hearing all about their adventures is an exciting time. Some tips for pickup day include:
•Arrive on time. Don't be late to pick up your child from camp. They'll be anxious to see you after being away for so long.
•Let them share. Ask open-ended questions about their experience and listen to all they have to share—the good and the bad. Talking about it will help them process the memories.
•Stay positive. React enthusiastically to their stories. Laugh with them and share in their joy. Your positive response will encourage them to attend camp again in the future.
•Give them space if needed. Some kids may feel overwhelmed from the experience and need time to rest and relax. Provide opportunities to unwind at their own pace.
•Look through any photos, crafts or other mementos from camp. Sharing these items together is a great way to gain insight into their experience and what mattered most to them.
•Ask what they want to do next year. If they had a positive experience, they may already be looking forward to attending camp again next summer! Start planning for an even better experience.
•Most of all, express how proud you are of them for trying new things and gaining independence. Provide lots of praise and positive reinforcement to build their confidence and self-esteem.
Though it's hard to be apart, picking up your child from their first sleepaway camp experience is a joyful reunion. By listening to their stories, sharing in the highlights, and expressing your support and pride, you'll create cherished memories of your own that last long after summer's end. Their camp adventure, with all its challenges and rewards, has given them life skills and independence to shape them for years to come. And you, by trusting them to spread their wings, have given them the greatest gift of all.
Sending your child off to sleepaway camp for the first time can be an emotional experience for both parent and child. However, with the proper preparation and support, it can also be an opportunity for tremendous growth. By choosing a camp that suits your child's needs, preparing them ahead of time, packing essentials to keep them comfortable, and picking them up with enthusiasm to hear all about their adventures, you set them up for success. The independence, skills, and memories they gain will stay with them forever. Though it's difficult to say goodbye, the rewards of giving them this experience are well worth it. With your love and encouragement, they'll return home changed for the better—and already looking ahead to next summer's camp.