Sleepaway camp is a wonderful, growth-filled experience. Parents, however, may underestimate the benefits of residential camp and what it will do for their child. “Some parents think their money is better spent elsewhere, particularly if they themselves did not attend sleepaway camp as a youngster,” says Doron Krakow, national director of Young Judaea Camp. “But it provides your child with invaluable life lessons, such as how to be independent, responsible and make diverse friendships.”
So how do you go about finding the right sleepaway camp? First, talk it over with your child. What are his or her interests? Finding a camp with activities your child will enjoy is important. At the same time, encourage them to try new things. “Just because your child likes soccer, doesn’t mean he might not like – or be good at – arts and crafts,” says Krakow. “Camp is a great place to try something different, because everyone is having new experiences.”
Once your child has decided upon the type of camp they want, explore the options. Find out about the various programs each one offers and ask plenty of questions. According to Krakow, most parents find out whether there’s quality instruction and enough time for their child to participate in the said activity, and stop there. But they should take a look at the big picture. “Probe to learn about other segments of the program,” he says.
What concepts or philosophy does the camp espouse? What will my child do through the course of a typical day?” If the camp has a brochure, read it carefully. This way you can match your agenda with that of the camp’s and provide the experience you want for your child.
Not sure if your child is developmentally ready for residential camp? Have a trial run. Send them to visit a relative for the weekend. How did they do away from home? Did he or she sleep well? Were they able to care for themselves (brushing teeth, taking a bath, changing clothes)? Did they adjust to new or different foods? These and other questions will help you decide if your child is ready for camp.
Even if your child did well on a trial run, spend a few minutes talking with the camp director. Tell them about your child – how he or she interacts with other children, their level of participation in school, etc.
Above all, don’t let your own apprehensions keep you from sending your child away to camp. “If you keep them home because of your anxiety about separation, you’re short-changing them,” says, Krakow. “If your youngster is asking to go away to camp, chances are they are ready.”
On the first day of camp, help your child get settled, then leave. “Don’t stick around too long,” says Krakow. “If you drive your child to camp, they may cling to you on the way up. Remember, this is something new, and it’s natural, even for a veteran camper to be a little hesitant.” Once there, however, many kids will shift from clingy to embarrassment in front of their friends, and parents are often slow to pick up on this.
Several weeks before your child attends camp, keep their schedule open and stress-free. This will allow them plenty of time to relax and prepare for the big event. If, for example, your family comes back from a vacation on Friday and you scoot your child off to camp on Sunday, they may experience some anxiety and tension. A better idea is to plan major summer events with a break in between.
On the last day of camp, arrive on time, and come prepared with a few extra plastic bags. You may need them, especially if your child has wet clothes or muddy shoes that need to be transported.
On the ride home, listen to your child. More than likely they’ll be eager to share their experiences with you – who they met, what they did, and the funny things that happened. And if you look really close you may find he’s grown a little. Not just in height, but in depth of character. Camp has a way of helping kids grow by boosting their self-esteem, increasing their sense of responsibility and helping them mature in their relationships with others.