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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
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From the day a child is born, parents fear for their
childs 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?
Todays 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 childs 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.
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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
Tips to consider before your child leaves for
- 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
- 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
- Allow your child to pack a favorite stuffed animal
and/or picture so that your child will have a reminder
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
- 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
- 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.
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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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