Spring has finally arrived; the school year is beginning to wind down, and summer is on its way. For me, summer always means summer camp. Very soon, parents will be sending their most precious treasures off to camp. And some of those campers will be going to camp for the very first time.
For many parents, sending a child to camp for the first time is hard. If you are one of those parents, you may have many questions — and maybe some concerns as well. Among those is one very important question: how will you know if your child is really ready for this step?
Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer. There is no way to determine with absolute certainty that any child is ready for camp. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself to help gauge your child’s emotional readiness for a summer at camp.
How does your child adjust to unfamiliar environments, or new experiences? A child who is quick to adapt may be ready to start their camp experience.
How does your child cope with sadness, or anger, or disappointment? Of course, camp isn’t about that, but almost every child will have moments of these kinds of experiences while they are at camp. What makes a camp experience so wonderful for so many children is that at its heart, camp is a lot of fun! But along with all the fun of playing camp games and singing silly songs, of trying new things, and meeting new friends, sometimes there are those difficult moments. A bit of homesickness, a misunderstanding between friends, or maybe trying something new and becoming frustrated upon discovering that it is harder than it looks. These difficult moments are just another part of growing up; they are a part of life. But luckily at camp, children don’t have to adapt and adjust all by themselves, as there will be staff members who have been well trained to help your child in these circumstances.
These kinds of experiences are a normal part of growing up — but when it is your child away at camp, and you get the letter or postcard telling you about it, then the question might become, are you as a parent emotionally ready? Are you ready to let your child begin to discover how to figure these things out away from you?
When your child is emotionally ready to go to camp and you are emotionally ready to let them, you will be giving your child one of the most precious gifts you can give: a camp experience. At the end of it, your child will come back to you a little bit taller, prouder, and stronger because of all they did and learned while they were away from you — at camp.
Mary Rogers is the executive director at Sherwood Forest Camp, a year-round youth development organization serving children and youth from economically disadvantaged families in St. Louis, Missouri. Mary is a long-time member of the American Camp Association and holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Photo courtesy of Camp Stella Maris in Livonia, New York