Residential camp a wonderful, growth-filled experience that provides your child with invaluable life lessons on how to be independent, responsible and make diverse friendships. So how do you go about choosing the right sleep-away camp?
First talk it over with your child and discuss his interests. Finding a camp with activities he will enjoy is important, but it’s also a great place to try something different. Encourage your child to try new experiences. Just because he likes soccer, doesn’t mean he might not enjoy learning a new skill, such as arts and crafts.
Next explore the options. Find out about programs each camp offers and ask questions. Sometimes parents find out whether there is quality instruction and enough time for their child to participate in the said activity, and stop there. Take time, however, to learn about other segments of the program too. What concepts or philosophy does the camp espouse? What will your child do through the course of a typical day? If the camp has a brochure, read it carefully, then match it to your agenda and the experience you want for your child.
To determine if your child is developmentally ready for residential camp, do a trial run. Send him to visit a relative for the weekend. How did he do? Did he sleep well? Was he able to care for himself (brush his teeth, take a bath, change his clothes)? Did he adjust to new or different foods? These and other questions will help you decide if your child is ready for the residential camp experience.
On the first day of camp, help your child get settled, then leave; don’t stick around too long. If you drive your child to camp, he may cling to you on the way up. Remember, this is something new, and it’s natural even for a veteran camper to be a little hesitant. Once there, however, many kids will shift from being clingy to feeling embarrassed in front of their friends, and parents are often slow to pick up on this.
Even before sending your child to camp, mail him a letter. This way he’ll have something to open when the mail arrives on the first day. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a note saying you’re thinking of him and hoping he’s having a good time will do. If your child doesn’t write back during his stay, don’t take it personally. Camp is a full-time job for kids. Some may be inclined to share it all with their parents, others will get so caught up in the moment that promises to write are forgotten. If you don’t hear from him, it probably means he’s having a great time and enjoying his newfound freedom.
Whether your child goes to camp for one week or the whole summer, send a care package. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just something to let him know you are thinking of him. Just be sure if you are sending food, you know what the rules are about food in cabins, as it could attract bugs and outdoor creatures.
Several weeks before camp, keep your child’s schedule open and stress-free. This will allow him plenty of time to relax and prepare for the big event. In short, plan major summer events like family vacations and camp with a break in between.
Avoid purchasing new clothes for camp. Chances are, they’ll get soiled, stained, or mildewed before they get home – if they even get home! Round up old clothes and shoes and save new items for after camp.
On the last day of camp, arrive on time, and come prepared with a few extra plastic bags. You may need them, especially if your child has wet clothes or muddy shoes that need to be transported.
On the ride home, listen to your child as he shares his experiences with you. And if you look really close you may find he’s grown a little. Not just in height, but in depth of character. Camp has a way of helping kids grow by boosting their self-esteem, increasing their sense of responsibility and helping them mature in their relationships with others.