With the summer days approaching, many parents may be considering the decision to send their child to a sleep-away camp. This is a big decision for families and, if new to the camping world, raises a lot of questions.

For many parents, the first thing they wonder is if their child is ready. While there is no magic age that deems a child “ready” for camp, there are some tell-tale signs that a parent can look for or even help a child with to prepare for a great camp experience.

  • Has my child ASKED about going to overnight camp?  Many children begin hearing about other friends attending a camp and start asking the question first. That’s usually a very good sign that they feel ready.

Many parents I speak to often brush off the request for a variety of reasons, but I encourage them to really entertain their child’s request and consider other aspects of their personality and development such as:

  1. Does my child make friends easily?  Summer camp is about making new friends and learning to meet different children.  Some children are ready to go on their own, and others may find it more comfortable to ask a friend to go as a camp buddy.
  2. Can my child take care of their basic needs on their own?  Bathing and washing your own hair is expected.  Cabin counselors are there to assist with fixing a young girl’s hair style into a braid or pony tail but campers are expected to be able to brush their own teeth and manage their own showers. If you have a child who has not ever learned these skills, encourage them to do so now at home so they are comfortable with the process. Start a few weeks before camp so they have time to practice and get your help or input as needed. By the time they get to camp, they’ll be a pro!
  3. Has my child spent the night with a family member or friend without me?  Some families may choose a short camp session as a first-year trial and consider a camp that is not too far from home. (within 2 hours) – Many camps, like Camp Fire Camp El Tesoro, offer first and second graders a 4-day camp session as well as one week sessions for older campers coming to camp for the first time.

Once the decision is made that your child is ready to attend camp, the process of finding and selecting a camp begins. The good thing is that it is never too late to start looking. While there are camps that fill their cabins early in the year, many don’t fill every space, or have spaces open up as the summer progresses.

When looking at camps for your child it is important to note that just as every child is different, so is every camp. There are more than 12,000 day and overnight camps in the United States! Choose your camp with the same level of care that you use when selecting a school.

Begin with a basic criteria decided on by you, the parent, and the potential camper. Use things such as interests, location, cost and accreditation. Also, ask the camper why they want to go to camp. This can help narrow the list.

Other Things to consider:

  • Are you comfortable with the camp’s philosophy, program and management?
  • Do you want a traditional camp?
  • Location near or far away?
  • Do you need a camp that can accommodate special needs?
  • Single gender or coed?
  • Have you gotten recommendations from friends and relatives?

Head to the internet. Almost every camp has information online or videos that show both the parent and the camper what they can expect. If at all possible, take the time to tour the camp and meet the staff.

As we do with our Camp Fire camps, many offer a free day or a local “party” where families can come and get all their questions about camp easier making the transition easier for both the parents and the camper.

A great online resource for parents is the American Camp Association’s website: http://www.acacamps.org/ and use “Find a Camp” option.

Once you have decided on the camp for your child, you can work with staff and the director for details on check-in and check-out, what to pack and any additional information or resources that you may need to help your child have the best time possible at camp.

A special note to parents:

Enjoy the time that your child is at camp and let the camp do their job. Write letters to your camper and encourage them. While they are away, don’t make any major life changes that you haven’t discussed previously with your child and above all be positive about camp! Before you know it, your child will be back in your home telling you about the adventures, friends and fun they had during their time at camp and more than likely asking you, “When can I go back?”