How to prepare for overnight summer camp

If your child has brought up the idea of going away to camp this summer, or you think they are ready for a new experience, now is the time to start getting information and making a plan.

Need help?

Check out the American Camp Association’s website, campparents.org.

From day camps to family camps to resident overnight camps, there are options for every child at every age.

“Camp provides a perfect setting for youth to branch out on their own, under the guidance of experienced and trained camp staff,” says Colette Marquardt, executive director of the American Camp Association Illinois. “Camp gives children the opportunity to develop critical life skills that help them excel in life and gain confidence in their ability to be independent.”

Since every child is different, the right time to try overnight camp will also differ with each child, she says.

“We recommend exploring if your child is ready to be away from home overnight by themselves, in addition to considering the age.”

The only way to know if your child is ready for camp is to start talking about it with them.

“The earlier a child starts going to camp, the better,” says Kim Kiser, vice president of Camping for YMCA Metropolitan Chicago, where the traditional starting age for resident camp is 7. “When they start young, they become masterful, have tremendous growth and can gain so much more than older kids who start.”

One way to test the waters is to try a family camp.

“Parents can bring potential campers to family weekend sessions where they do the programming and activities as a family,” says Kiser. “Then the child is prepared to come back on their own and they feel like they own the camp, know the area and how camp works.”

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to allow your child to be part of the camp selection process.

“Look at websites together. Ask your child what they want in a camp experience. Let your child make a list of questions for the camp director,” says Marquardt. “The parent is helping the child have access to the experience, but the actual experience belongs to the child.”

Get started today

Kiser recommends visiting the camp if possible.

“Meet the director and bring your child along. Have your child prepare a list of questions and let them lead the way. See what a cabin is like so children can imagine themselves sleeping there. A visit to the camp shaves off a tone of anxiety for both the child and parent.”

If the camp is too far away for a quick visit, Kiser suggests doing an interactive webinar or virtual tour online with a camp director.

“More than any other place in life, camp teaches children critical coping skills and resilience,” says Kiser. “Kids truly develop into who they are at camp and they are free to be who they are. ”

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