As a child, I started attending summer camps by the time I was eight. Most summers, I attended at least two camps or sessions. It didn’t matter to me whether I brought a friend or not, I had fun at camp.For my daughter, Addy, it was different. She had no desire to go. I decided to take a relaxed approach: “When she is ready, she’ll ask.” Last year, at the age of 12, Addy decided that she was ready. So we began searching for the ideal place for her. We looked in Oklahoma and surrounding states and found many good options—some expensive and some moderately priced. Because we started late, however, most camps were full. As my own plans started to evolve for the summer, I realized how convenient it would be if we could find an in-state camp. I suggested we check out one of the camps I regularly attended.
We did; they had space and the price was more than reasonable. The deal was made. Although very comfortable with the choice, I must confess I fretted some. Last summer, a good friend’s child wrote heart-wrenching letters about wanting and needing to come home. My friend made her stick it out, but not without tears of her own. It can be daunting to try something new, like an overnight summer camp, but a fear of the unknown is never a good reason not to try something. My friend’s child learned an important lesson that summer in dealing with a challenging situation.
If your child has yet to experience camp, you might want to consider it. The majority of children, mine included, have wonderful camp experiences. A study done by the American Camp Association (ACA) surveyed more than 5,000 families who had attended 80 ACA-accredited camps to evaluate the experience from the perspective of parents and children. In most cases, the parents and children reported significant growth in self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, a sense of adventure and exploration, environmental awareness, values and spirituality.
There are other reasons to consider sending your child to camp. According to Dr. Bruce Muchnick, a licensed psychologist who works extensively with day and resident campers, “Camp is a learning experience.” Dr.Muchnick explains that being in a new environment and away from the familiar “provides an opportunity for your child to explore a world bigger than his/her neighborhoodand a chance for you and your child to practice ’letting go.’”
He claims that “letting go” is important to develop autonomy and a strong sense of self. The ACA (ACAcamps.org) offers more advice:
- Make joint decisions: Include your child in the selection process. Ask your child to pack with your help.
- Talk openly about fears and concerns: Being afraid to be away from home is common, if it is the first camp experience. Share your “first-time-from home”experiences with your camper. Talk to them about what they can do when and if they feel sad or lonely.
- Help them have realistic expectations: Explain to your child the real purpose of camp, which is to relax, have fun and enjoy. It’s not about winning the biggest trophy or prize or mastering every task. Talk about how a typical day will include fun activities, but also some chores like making a bed or keeping your bunk tidy.
If your child has never attended camp, you could always select camps with shorter durations. Addy’s camp last year ran for one week. After hearing all the camp tales from my daughter post-trip, I am happy to report that it was all good! She can’t wait to return.
Helpful hint: When trying to figure out how to pack Addy’s camp supplies and clothes, I asked a friend if she had a trunk I could borrow. She told me, “Don’t do that. Instead, purchase a plastic chest of drawers. When transporting, tape the drawers shut.” This solution was ideal and made all of Addy’s key items easy to reach. You might want to check with the camp staff before making this decision.
Allyn Evans (TheAlertParent.com) is a published author, professional speaker and consultant residing in Stillwater.