Here’s how to choose the right fit and get your child excited about the adventure.
Guest post by Katie Bugbee, Senior Managing Editor, Care.com
Overnight camp can be an incredible growing experience for your child. Maybe you went yourself – or you wish you had. But for whatever reason, you just know your child will thrive in cabin-sleepover-living. Now, you need to make sure your child feels the same way.
Making new friends, trying different things, and being independent can seem daunting to some, but preparation can make all the difference. It’ll be a team effort, and yes, there still might be tears at drop-off no matter how prepped you both are. But, these tips can help ensure your child is the one wiping your eyes — instead of the other way around.
Research and Choose a Camp Together
Talk to your child about what his or her ideal camp would be. Is it focused around one particular interest (soccer, arts, etc.), or a more general experience that caters toward a bunch of activities– as well as introducing new ones (archery, anyone?)? There is also an option of choosing a girls- or boys-only camp, which is perfect for some kids. The more you talk about the idea, the more control over the decision your child will feel, and he or she will be happier with the final decision.
- Tour the Camp, in Person or Online
Camps often post pictures and videos throughout the summer to keep families connected with their children while they're away. Use this as a first look into what activities the camp offers and what the culture looks like. Some camps also offer a longer video of the previous summer to remind campers of good memories and give prospective families a preview of camp life.
You can schedule an in-person visit at most camps before you make a decision. A staff member will show you around the campus and answer any questions you may have. If your child is nervous about sleeping in a strange place, this is a great opportunity to help them feel comfortable and introduce them to the staff.
- Stay Positive and Informed
As summer gets closer, your child's excitement (and, possibly, anxiety) will grow. Be sure to stay positive about camp and address any concerns immediately, before they become big problems. Check out the camp’s Facebook page if it has one. You'll be able to see campers posting about how excited they are for the upcoming season and you can stay up to date on camp news. This will help your child feel more included in the community before they leave home.
- Set Goals of Meeting New People and Trying New Things
Camp is a time to expand social circles and try new things. Even if your child is timid, they will find themselves stepping out of their comfort zone without even trying. Set some goals together around meeting new people and trying new activities. One example could be "I want to be friendly with everyone in my cabin group" or "I want to swim in the lake." Write these ideas down in a notebook that your child will take to camp so they can be reminded of their goals throughout the summer. And let them know that it’s okay to change these goals mid-way through.
Also, encourage your child to sign up for activities they know they already love (write these in the notebook too). This will spark friendships with other campers who share the same interests.
- Go over the “What-Ifs”
Chances are your child will experience at least one speed bump in their camp experience. Homesickness is extremely common in the first few weeks and should be discussed beforehand. Write a special note in your child's camp notebook reminding them that you are excited to hear all about their camp adventures when they get home. This lets them know that home is waiting for them at the end of the session and to have fun while they're away. Calling home should always be the last choice since it can make homesickness worse.
What else can you put in the notebook? Write down solutions to certain problems: getting hurt, feeling sick, having friend trouble. Giving your child written advice on how to navigate potential problems will give them a level of support even if you're not around.
- Create Ways to Communicate
Writing letters home is usually required at most overnight camps. Buy some fun envelopes and stamps to send with your child so they can write home whenever they want. Calling or emailing might be allowed at some camps, but most camps limit phone and computer time to preserve the screen-less environment, especially in the first few weeks.
If your child is staying for more than two weeks, you might consider sending them a care package with some of their favorite things. Magazines, a craft project, a Mad Libs-type activity book or a new sweatshirt all make great surprises. Check with the camp about sending snack items, though. Most don't allow it because it attracts wildlife to the cabins.
- Pack Together
This is the fun part. Make sure your child brings a few favorite things from home to help get comfortable in their new environment. Then, check the camp website for the packing list which will tell you exactly what your child will need during their stay. Make sure to write your last name on everything you bring. Camp lost-and-founds are overflowing by the end of the summer!
Another good tip is to write down everything you pack in your camp notebook. That way your child can easily check off items when they pack up to come home. And, don’t forget to pack some waterproof rain gear, warm comfy clothes for campfires, and extra batteries for the flashlight.
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident global parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she's an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.
Photo courtesy of Cheley Colorado Camps, Estes Park, Colorado