Overnight Camp: Is Your Child Ready?

As the cold winter months near an end, are visions of summertime dancing through your head? If so, you’re not alone. Soon we’ll be saying bye-bye to cabin fever and a welcoming hello to the warm sunshine, flip-flops, bomb pops, summer vacation … and for some of our children, overnight camp!

Brochures and advertisements are popping up everywhere these days for fun-filled, overnight camps. But how do you know if your child is ready? According to Jill Burton, senior director of summer programs at Camp Wood YMCA, if your child is the one bringing home a camp brochure or is the first one to show interest, she’s probably ready. But if you’re the one pushing her into it, then maybe not.

“A child is probably ready if she’s counting down the days until camp or has had successful overnight stays at friends’ or grandparents’ houses,” Burton says.

If your child is showing all the signs of being ready, great! But is she old enough for overnight camp? While all camps are different, the average age requirement is 7 – 17.

Independence mom Brice Thompson says her daughter, Karson, had her first solo overnight experience at age nine with her Girl Scout troop.

“I went with her the first time, so I was already familiar with the people and surroundings. For me, it’s important to check things out first,” Thompson says.

Before enrolling your child in any particular camp, Burton recommends the following ways to prepare yourself and your child for the overnight-camp experience:

Involve your child in the selection process. You don’t want her to feel as if you’re just sending her off to some strange place. Go through camp brochures and/or Web sites together. Let your child know what to expect and review the checklist of things that will happen each day.

Visit the camp. All camps should have open policies for families to visit. Show your child where she will be staying, sleeping and eating. Camps should also give you references, so be sure to ask for them.

Speak with the camp director. Great camps will set up communication with new campers and parents before opening day. The camp director may call you to introduce herself, but if not, be sure to call her.

Ask questions. Ask everything and anything you can think of and don’t feel silly about it. What is the camper-to-staff ratio? What is a typical day like at camp? Are there background checks on staffers? What happens if someone bullies your child? Asking questions will help ease your mind.

Meet the caretakers. Get to know them as you would a babysitter you’d leave your child with. Again, ask questions.

Prepare for camp together. Read through the packing list together, bring your child with you when shopping for camp supplies and pack together.

Make sure your child can take care of herself. Be sure she can bathe by herself, brush her own teeth, comb her hair, unpack her own bags, decide what to wear and make healthy food choices. It’s also important that she can verbally express her basic needs (i.e. if she needs help or doesn’t feel well).

Plan your correspondence. E-mail or snail mail? You and your child decide. Make it easy for her by addressing and stamping envelopes which she can use to mail letters home. Camps typically have no-phone-call policies.

Stay positive about the camp experience! Let your child know you’re excited for her by telling her things like, “Can’t wait to hear all about the fun things you’ll do at camp!” What you don’t want to do is disrupt her enthusiasm with your own nerves. Don’t linger too long when you drop her off and avoid using the word homesickness or making deals with her by promising to pick her up if she’s sad. Homesickness is completely normal.

So, are there benefits to sending your child to an overnight camp? You bet! Not only will camp teach them important life skills, such as how to solve problems and make friends, but according to Burton, some parents notice more maturity and independence in their children afterward.

“Camp definitely gave Karson a lot more independence,” Thompson says. “She discovered a way to make things work and learned from her mistakes.”

“It’s definitely the life skills that make the biggest impact,” Burton says.

Interested in an overnight camp for your child? Check out these sites:

www.CampParents.org – Find great tips on what to look for in a summer camp and what questions to ask a camp director.

www.ACACamps.org – (American Camp Association) Search for a camp by location, activities, special needs, price, etc.


Gina Klein writes from her home in Kansas City, where she resides with her husband, two daughters and two canines.

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