Is Your Child Ready for Overnight Camp?

lakedockThe summer when I was nine years old, I headed to Camp Kweebec in Schwenksville, PA., for 8 solid weeks of overnight camp. When I tell fellow parents that now, they’re typically astounded—how could a kid that young be ready to go away for that long?

I know I was ready (and loved it enough to go back each summer for years and years), but I’m at a loss as to ID’ing sleepaway camp readiness in today’s kiddie cohort. So I contacted the directors at several overnight camps to find out what they tell parents who are beginning to think about packing the kids away for the summer.

I started of course, at my summer home for most of the 80’s: Camp Kweebec. Les Weiser, Kweebec’s owner and Director, and his daughter Rachel Weisman (who was a camper back in my day and is now a CK administrator), told me this:

“Being ‘ready’ for camp differs for every kid (and their parents, too) but on average most kids who come to Kweebec are ready between 7 and 9 years old. The younger the kids are, the better they usually do adjusting to camp. (The exact opposite applies to their parents—it is much harder for them!)

One of the best things parents can do to help get their kids ready for their first summer away is to focus on all of the fun they are going to have at camp. Without too much detail, talk about things like the friends they are going to make, the teams they are going to be on, the activities they have never tried before. We want to set the kids up for success, and it is important for campers to know that their parents have confidence in their ability to go!”

Jeremy Culpepper, the Director of Summer Programs at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps in New Jersey, said he hears parents focus on how their child has never done anything like this before, and they are concerned about whether the child can handle it:

“Residential/overnight summer camp is a unique physical and social environment. If parents are interested in sending their child to an overnight camp, they need to give them experiences prior to them coming to camp that will better prepare them. They need to be put into situations where independence is required. It starts with simply allowing them to have sleepovers at their relatives’ and friends’ houses. Additionally, going camping as a family prior to coming to camp is recommended, as it allows the camper to experience the uniqueness of spending the night outside, but in the comfort of their family.”

Helene Drobenare, the Director of Camp Young Judea Sprout Lake in Verbank, NY, says that in addition to navigating sleepovers, kids need to have the hang of basic self-care like showering, brushing their teeth, and taking any medications they need. After that, she says parents need to have answers to questions their kids will have: Can I pick my own bed? What is the food like? Can I choose my own activities? What if I don’t like an activity?

“Talk about it, show them the camp’s video. It should not be a surprise to the kids. And begin labeling their clothes. It’s a long process!”

And Aaron Selkow, Director of Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, PA, says parents need to evaluate what their children are ready for . . . and then push them, just a little:

“There’s no magic to figuring out the right time to try resident camp. For some kids, it will be more clear that they’re ready because they’ve had experiences away from home, have seen siblings go to camp, or seem especially excited about the idea. Maybe their parents went to camp; maybe they visited a ‘rookie’ weekend or had a retreat at a camp at some point.

But for many kids, it may not be so clear. And just because a child doesn’t naturally see camp as exciting or feel sure they’re ready, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad idea. As parents, we don’t always like to push. But the very nature of resident camp being an immersive experience for kids away from home means that this step can be a key.

And I tend to suggest this to parents trying to figure out when should they send their kids to resident camp: send them right before YOU think they’re ready. They’re kids, and they’re a whole lot more resilient and prepared than we are!”

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