How to Get Your Child Ready for Summer Camp
Set your child up for success at summer camp
Sending your child to camp for the first time can be a little intimidating, especially if it is the first time a child is away from home for an extended period of time. Parents want their children to get the confidence and independence that camp gives them, but they still worry about the first days.
This article shares my thoughts on ways to set your child up for success at camp. In it, I list a wide variety of techniques that will help your child be ready for camp.
Frame the Experience
Parents typically coach their children to be wary of strangers and to be comfortable as long as family members are around. With this in mind, camp can be an initially scary concept: two-three weeks away from home.
Knowing this, wise parents provide their children with a different frame to look at camp. It is not “3 weeks away from mom and dad”, but is instead “a grand adventure full of fun and friends”.
The campers that do best the first few days of camp arrive believing that camp will be fun. Their parents’ words and body language reinforce this belief. I remember my mom smiling and telling me how jealous she was, “I wish I could go to camp. You will make the best friends and do the most amazing things. It will be a grand adventure.” When she said this, she was relaxed and smiling – she provided no evidence that I should be worried. I knew that my parents loved me, so this interaction really helped me. I was still a bit nervous, but this message was incredibly helpful in comforting me.
Meet the Camp Team
Some camps visit cities in the non-summer months to reconnect with their campers and meet new potential camp families. These events are excellent opportunities to meet the directors and some of the staff. Such gathering are a great place for parents to ask any questions. They also enable future campers to meet the camps staff – the people that will be caring for them during the summer. Simply knowing who will be looking after them is often reassuring. If your future camper also has a chance to play with the staff, he or she will realize that camp will be fun and full of nice people. Whenever we visit cities, we always bring several counselors and full time staff (and a portable ga-ga pit) for the campers to play with.
Take a camp tour
Another great way to meet the camp team is to tour the camp or attend an open house at the camp. A tour also enables the campers and parents to meet the staff and have some fun, but it also gives the camper a chance to know where everything is. Sometimes a camper is worried about something that might never occur to a parent. For example, I have known campers that assumed that there were no bathrooms at camp or a dining hall! I have no idea how they develop these concerns, but a good tour addresses them well.
Do Some Research
Two years ago, Dr. Michael Thompson (author of “Raising Cain”, the NYTimes bestselling book about boys) wrote a book called “Homesick and Happy”. This book does a wonderful job explaining the developmental benefits of summer camp for a child. It also shares some advice on how to prepare your child for the first summer. We were so impressed with the book that we provide it to all first-time parents once they register for Camp Champions to help them get ready for the summer.
Similarly, many camps have parent guides that provide advice specific to their camp about how to prepare for time at camp.
Talk about Camp
During the months before camp, take time to talk about what your child might expect, including the following:
- Describe life in the cabin. I like to tell future campers that the cabin is like the best sleepover with the coolest baby-sitters possible.
- Remind your child that everyone at camp wants to make a new friend. In fact, few environments are as amenable to making new friends.
- Spend time on the website, especially if there are any videos or interactive maps. Seeing other campers having fun in photos or videos will help your child envision him or herself doing the same.
- Encourage them to ask about anything that seems confusing or concerning. If you cannot answer them, call the camp for the answers and report back. Information is the best weapon against uncertainty.
- Ask them positive, leading questions like “what activity will you like the most?” “What are you most excited about?” “What do you think your counselors will be like?” Questions like these will help put your child’s attention on the positive aspects of camp. Generally, we see what we expect to see. If we expect an experience to be positive, this becomes more likely.
- Acknowledge their concerns. If your child asks about homesickness, you want to make sure he or she knows you are listening. Having said that, you should help redirect their concerns. “I would not be surprised if you have some homesickness – most campers have at least some. That is normal. But know that the camp will be full of people that care about you and will look after you. You will have a wonderful time. Heck, I’m jealous. Camp will be over quicker than you know.”
The first summer camp experience is a great gift for your child. He or she will grow in important and noticeable ways while having a blast. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to spend some time before camp to help prepare them for a wonderful time.
If you would like to learn more about other summer camp topics, we have provided several other guides and resources to help you find the best summer camp for your family:
- Homesickness - Catch a glimpse into our training orientation and how we help help campers avoid homesickness.
- Bringing a Friend to Camp - Parents often ask about the benefits of coming to camp alone or if their child should bring a friend.
- How to find the best summer camp term length - What summer camp term length options are there and what is the best.
- Benefits of camp - Camp provides critical skills. Read more about the latest research.