Sending Kids to Camp for the First Time

Spending that first summer at camp is a big step for any child. It’s also a big milestone for mom and dad. Sending your kids to camp takes considerable thought, from finding the right camp to allocating the necessary funds, parents have many decisions to make. But before the searching and saving begins, ask yourself one important question: Is my child ready for camp? The American Camp Association (ACA) encourages parents to consider the following questions when deciding whether or not to send their child to camp for the first time.

Has your child has positive overnight experiences away from home?
Children who have little to no familiarity being away from home for the night may struggle adjusting to daily life at an overnight camp. ACA encourages future campers to “practice” spending nights with friends or relatives before attending an overnight camp. These separations allow a child to make a positive association with being away from home and learn to manage any negative experiences in a healthy, independent fashion.

Is your child old enough for overnight camp?
ACA has found that a child under the age of seven may not adjust to an overnight camp as easily as an older child. Fortunately, a quality camp experience is still available to those children who may not be ready for an extended stay away from home. Day camp lets children experience the same physical, social and emotional development they would get at an overnight camp, while allowing them to stay home. Day camp is a great way to show children the benefits of camp – and many take the next step to overnight camp in the future.

How did your child become interested in camp?
How much persuasion is necessary from you to send your child to camp? Does he or she need extra encouragement? Or is his or her own curiosity enough to send them to camp? It’s not uncommon for some children to be excited about camp before ever having set foot in a cabin or hiking a trail. The stories of older siblings, cousins, friends and even parents or guardians may be just what a child needs to inspire interest in a camp experience of their very own.

What does your child expect to do at camp?
Learning about camp ahead of time allows children to create positive expectations. Many camps offer visits for potential campers and their families. At these visits, your child can get a feel for what day to day life is like at camp, meet staff members and get excited for the summer. If a visit isn’t an option, many camp websites provide detailed lists of summer activities for current and future campers.

Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp?
Your enthusiasm helps to assure your child that camp is a positive place to be, allowing him or her an opportunity to experience its full benefits and come home excited about future summers at camp.

Every child deserves their own camp experience. Some will be ready soon; others may need a little more time. For younger children who aren’t ready to spend their summer somewhere else, ACA recommends any one of the quality day camps available through its Find a Camp service. Whether it’s a four-week, overnight stay in the woods or a daily journey to a local community center, the camp experience is waiting for your future camper!

The American Camp Association® (ACA) is a national organization; 10,000 members strong, that actively works with over 2,700 camps. ACA is committed to collaborating with those who believe in quality camp and outdoor experiences for children, youth and adults. ACA provides advocacy and evidence-based education and professional development, and is the only national accrediting body for the organized camp experience. For more information, visit

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