By Vicki Little
My only experience with sleep-away camp was for orchestra. It was only two nights, but I remember it so fondly. It was co-ed, which I am certain put my parents on pins and needles the entire time I was gone. All I remember is making friends, laughing until wee hours of the morning, watching the movie “Airplane,” and having a play casino where our teachers were the card dealers. Now that I’m a parent, I would question some of those movie and activity choices. I also understand the struggle of deciding if my children are ready for sleep-away camp, whether it’s for 2 nights or 2 weeks. These camps require a large investment of time and money – and gas, if it turns out you need to drive all the way to camp to pick your child up in the middle of a session! So how are we to know if we should let them go?
- Your child wants to go to camp. This may seem obvious, but often parents think that camp will be good for their child or they hope that camp will help their child overcome shyness or make friends, but the kid doesn’t really seem that interested. If your child wants to go to camp, sit down and talk with him or her about the logistics of what will be involved, like the fact that many camps only let campers call home once or twice a week.
- Your child is able to spend extended time away from you without problems. Some children can spend the night at their grandparents just fine, but can’t spend one night at a friend’s house without needing to go home in the middle of the night. Find out what your child’s comfort level is by testing it out. They could spend a couple of nights in a row with another family member or friend.
- They are able to complete basic daily routines independently. Most camps expect their campers to get themselves ready in the morning and before bed. They will also need to be able to stay with a group and follow a schedule. Most skills they will need will be similar to ones they use at school, such as getting their own food trays. As long as they can get themselves ready, they should be good!
- Your child can solve daily problems without breaking down or needing to consult you. The ability to problem solve and handle daily situations varies by person, not just by age. Some kids have a harder time dealing with conflict or situations such as lost retainers or broken glasses or a sunburn. Some struggle when a disagreement between friends occurs and some just let it roll off of their back. You know your child better than anyone, but if they tend to need your help to get through the day, then you may want to reconsider if they are ready for overnight camp, or if a day camp may be better.
- They get along with peers. Of course, there will be conflicts – there are when any group gets together, not just kids. But being able to join a group, make friends, and not constantly cause strife is important in an overnight camp setting. If your child is constantly feeling like an outsider, or if they have anxiety in group settings, this may not be the best situation for him or her. Camps can be a good time to learn these skills, but not if the situation makes your child unhappy and anxious.
- They don’t have sleep issues. Camp is going to be significantly harder for your child if they are still trying to resolve bed-wetting, night terrors, or other issues. If they are occasional sleepwalkers, you may be OK just talking with the camp counselors and alerting them to this. But if your child will not be able to sleep or will be scared or embarrassed because of sleep issues, you may be better off waiting a year or two.
Vicki Little is a preschool teacher with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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