Articles for Parents

Preparing for Camp

Useful information to answer some of your
questions and to put your mind at rest

WHY PARENTS SEND KIDS TO CAMP

Every summer millions of children leave home in search of a new and challenging adventure. An estimated 8.1 million children went to camp last summer. Why are parents sending their children year after year to meet new friends and engage in new experiences?

In a national survey of more than two thousand camps, camp directors reported that parents rated the three most important benefits for sending their children to camp: increasing self-confidence, making new friends, and participating in fun activities.

In 1922, Harvard University president, Charles W. Eliot, said, “The organized summer camp is the most important step in education that America has given the world.” According to the American Camping Association, camps have contributed to the development of children since the very beginning of its creation.

“The building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning, and contributing,” says Michael Popkin, Ph.D., family therapist and Active Parenting founder, “Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas, even beyond home and school.” Camp continues to aid children in learning and exploring their skills and dreams at more than 8,500 day and resident camps of varying types, lengths and sponsorships in America.

“Summer camp is more than a vacation for children,” says Bruce Muchnick, Ed.D., a licensed psychologist specializing in child and adolescent development. “At camp, kids learn to appreciate the outdoors, develop companionship and pick up skills that enhance self-reliance, cooperation and interdependence. These skills will remain with them throughout childhood and into adulthood.”

Before it’s time for the camp session, there are some preparations to consider that will make the child’s camp experience more fun and rewarding.

Consider camp as a learning experience. This is an opportunity for a child to explore a world bigger than his/her neighborhood and a chance for parent and child to practice “letting go”. Letting go allows children to develop autonomy and a stronger sense of self, make new friends, develop new social skills, learn about teamwork, be creative and more. This time also allows parents an opportunity to take care of themselves so that they will feel refreshed when their child returns home.

Prepare for camp together. Decisions about camp – where to go and what to pack – should be a joint venture, keeping in mind the child’s maturity. If a child feels apart of the decision-making process, his/her chances of having a positive experience will improve.

UNCOVERING CAMP FEARS

From the day a child is born, parents fear for their child’s well-being, safety, and happiness. Sending a child to camp for the first time is a fear many parents share. According to a survey by The American Camping Association, the five fears most often cited by parents regarding summer camp are safety, supervision, socialization, boredom, and homesickness.

Bob Ditter, national camp consultant and licensed clinical social worker specializing in child and adolescent treatment, says that the camp selection process helps parents overcome the five fears. “Camp directors see themselves as partners in parenting, and understand their concerns,” Ditter says. ”They both want to provide children a serviced, positive environment designed for learning. ”Based on camp surveys nationwide and years of experience in the field, Ditter answers parents’ concerns regarding camp as a summer option for their children.

Will my child be safe?
”While no place can be accident free, statistics show that summer camps are far safer than both the home and the school environment”, Ditter says. More than 2,000 camps nationwide are accredited by the American Camping Association, which mean the camps voluntarily weigh 300 individual health, safety and program quality standards.

Can I trust the supervision my child will receive?
”I see more and more camps working on staff development than ever before”, Ditter says. Camps continually search for new sources for information on child development issues. Ditter suggests parents look for camps that maintain a high counselor-to-camper ratio.

Will my child fit in socially?
”Today’s camp curriculums are designed to teach socialization skills that help a child better cope in the real world”, Ditter says. ”Counselors work hard to foster a team atmosphere among campers”. Ditter tells parents to talk to both camp directors and parents of experienced campers to become more comfortable with the staff quality and programming at a particular camp. “Many educators talk about the positive changes in attitude, participation and teamwork their students exhibit when they return from summer camp”, Ditter says. ”Parents should understand that camp can really become a pivotal piece of a child’s formation for life.

Will my child be happy at camp?
”With a century of experience, camps understand that young boys and girls have a relatively short attention span”, Ditter says. To address this, camps provide a wide variety of activities that challenge children at each age level, and help them develop a sense of teamwork, independence and self-esteem. Camps’ locations provide an excellent setting for kids to learn about the world around them, and to learn about themselves without the daily pressures and influences of urban and suburban life.

HELPING KIDS COPE WITH CAMP

Over the years, Camp Shane has helped many parents and campers cope with an away-from-home camp experience.

Talk about concerns. As the first day of camp nears, some children experience anxiety about going away. Talk about these feelings. Communicate confidence in his/her ability in dealing with being away from home.

Tips to consider before your child leaves for camp:

  • If possible, visit the camp ahead of time so that your child will be familiar with the cabins and other general surroundings.
  • Consider arranging for a first-time camper to attend with a close friend, relative, or camp “buddy.”
  • Do not tell your child in advance that you will “rescue” him/her from camp if he/she doesn’t like it.
  • Discuss what camp will be like well before your child leaves, acknowledging feelings; consider role-playing anticipated camp situations.
  • Send a letter to your child before camp begins so he/she will have a letter waiting for his/her arrival.
  • Allow your child to pack a favorite stuffed animal and/or picture so that your child will have a reminder of home.

If adjustment problems (such as homesickness) do occur while your child is at camp:

  • Talk candidly with the camp guidance counselor to obtain his/her perception of your child’s adjustment.
  • Resist the temptation to “rescue” your son or daughter from this experience.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings and communicate your love. You might say, “If you still feel this way in a week, we’ll discuss what we can do.”
  • Remind them of all the people available to them and encourage them to discuss their fears with their bunk mates.
  • Support your child’s efforts to work out the problems with the help of the camp staff.
  • Remind him/her, if necessary, that he/she has made a commitment.
  • Trust your instincts: For the occasional child who is not enjoying anything and not adjusting to camp life, you should have a frank discussion with the camp director and come to a joint decision on how to resolve the problem.

WHAT ABOUT HOMESICKNESS

”Virtually all children experience some homesickness their first time away from home… as well as their parents”, Ditter says. He suggest an overnight stay with a friend as a ”training” experience prior to camp. Experts say the camp experience itself typically arms a child with a greater sense of independence and self-reliance. ”If parents do their homework to find the right setting for their child, summer camp can become a life-enriching experience with long-term development benefits”, Ditter adds.

Once your child arrives at camp, he or she may experience some apprehension related to the fear of the unknown and/or fear of failure in new situations. Some refer to this as “homesickness”, which can take the form of stomachaches, headaches, occasional misbehavior (in hopes of being sent home) or even statements about hating camp. “Most kids need four or five days to adjust to life at camp and being away from home”, says Muchnick.”They miss familiar surroundings, parents, pets and friends. Overcoming homesickness, upsets in cabin, and learning to care for oneself are important challenges that can be faced at camp.”

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