My son was begging to go to sleepaway camp at age six. Knowing the fun his older sister was having, he wanted to go at an earlier age than I was willing to send him. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, still has some trepidation even at age ten. Like so many parenting decisions, there is no “one size fits all” method of determining if a child is ready for the adventure of sleepaway camp. Asking yourself these eight questions can help make the choice easier.
Does your child want to attend camp?
Even though the experience will be entirely new to your child, many children have a good internal sense of whether they are equipped to spend time away from home. A child who is clamoring to be sent away to camp is giving a clear signal that they are ready for the new experience.
How does your child handle unfamiliar social situations?
Camp can be a great place to make lifelong friends. Spending so many hours together encourages closeness and bonding. But If your child does not make friends easily, he or she may be more comfortable attending camp with a friend for the first time or perhaps waiting a few years.
Have they been to friends’ houses overnight or stayed with relatives?
If your child has fun at sleepovers or staying overnight with grandparents, this can indicate readiness for sleepaway camp. The flexibility required to fall asleep in an unfamiliar bed is a necessity. Your child may be bringing their own bedding to camp and any comfort objects such as a special stuffy or pillow. In any case if they have slept away from home before, they can probably also do it at camp.
How does your child react to differences in bedtime routine?
Michelle Renfrow, a licensed professional counselor who spent 12 years working at Greene Family Camp, admits that bedtime can sometimes be difficult. “I have found that bedtime tends to be the time in which most children experience homesickness. It’s quieter in their cabins and they have time to calm down. They are exhausted from an amazing day of fun and excitement and that’s when their brain starts to think about home. Especially if there is a bedtime routine that they are missing because they are not in their own house.” But, she says, “Many camps address these types of issues ahead of time to help their staff create a successful bedtime routine for their campers.”
Does your child know how to take care of his or her personal hygiene?
Counselors will remind children to shower and brush their teeth, but your child should know how to do these things independently after the reminders. Says Renfrow, “During staff week our staff are trained on working with their campers on personal hygiene issues. They schedule time into their campers day for hygiene and are taught how to keep an eye on kids who are not taking care of themselves.”
Is your child able to ask an adult for help?
The more comfortable your child feels asking for help, the better prepared they’ll be seeking adult assistance away from you. Most children practice this ability at school or while over at a friend’s house. This is an essential skill at summer camp because although the counselors are doing their best to ensure each child’s safety, well being, and general happiness, your child may need to speak up for themselves at some point during the session.
Does your child take direction well?
It’s true that the goal of summer camp is oriented toward having fun, but there are still rules to be followed both for safety’s sake and to ensure a good time for everyone. Campers will be expected to go to bed at lights out, follow a schedule, and participate in activities. Certainly no child can be well behaved all of the time, but a general willingness to follow instructions can be helpful.
However, strong willed children can also have a great camp experience. Says Renfrow, “If you’re sending your child to a camp specifically designed towards something that they are connected to or are trying to accelerate in like a gymnastics camp or a coding Camp, then you are more likely to have a successful experience no matter what the personality type.”
How independent is your child?
Some children are raring to get out and explore the world sooner than others. The more independent your child is in general, the earlier he or she may be ready for sleepaway camp. Either way you may notice that your child comes home a bit more independent each time that they spend a session at sleepaway camp.
Many children relish the camp experience and want to return year after year. It can help your child build incredible memories. Some camps offer a weekend at camp during the school year where your child can put their toe in the water without making a huge commitment. And while no single one of these questions can determine for certain whether or not your child is ready to sleep away at camp, they are all worth considering as summertime approaches. Happy camping!
Camps to Consider: