Every parent wants their child’s first stay away from home to be successful and a good first summer camp experience can be a springboard to so many other positive aspects in their lives. When will my child be ready for an overnight camp, is a question often asked as families explore residential camping. Children are ready to attend camp at different ages depending upon their emotional maturity, interest in camp, and level of personal independence. Some are ready at the age of 5 or 6 (finishing kindergarten) and others meet with more success if they wait until age 8-10. Much depends on the child and the parents. I’ve seen many children who would like to attend camp but mom and dad are not ready. The reverse is also true. Take your cue from your children. In many cases they’re able to determine their readiness before a parent does. If they’re interested and excited about the possibility, it’s a good chance they’re ready. Always involve your child in the decision making process. Look over the camp brochure with your child and visit the web site to gauge their reaction and enthusiasm.
Has your child spent a night or two with a friend or relative? Children who are able to be away from parents are more likely to be good candidates for an overnight camp experience. If your child is interested but hesitant, sometimes it is helpful to see if any of his or her friends are also attending which will provide more security at first. If possible, a visit or tour of the camp will help familiarize your child with the site, dining room, and cabins which will provide more security on the first day.
How responsible and independent is your child? Can they keep track of their own things, tie their shoes and change their clothes. Is your child able to seek help from other adults or authority figures? There are always counselors and adults available at camp to help, guide, and mentor but the one on one attention will be less than when dealing with just mom or dad. Each child is different and even if you were eager to go to overnight camp at the age of nine, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child will when they turn the same age. If they are uncomfortable spending one night at a friend’s without calling you, they are not ready for overnight camp. Don’t base your decision on their friends or their parents.
Consider sending your child for a shorter session for their first time at overnight camp. First time campers should be able to find a program that has a 5 to 10 day session. Leave them hungry for more by not overdoing it and make that first experience a success. While your child is at camp, your correspondence with them by letter or email should be upbeat and positive (….know you’re having a great time and hoping you’re making lots of new friends and having fun!). Never promise your child that you will pick them up if they are homesick. Homesickness is normal and you want to set your child up for success. Reassure them that you will be there on closing day and can’t wait to see and hear all about camp. If you are concerned about homesickness, discuss it with the camp director and see how they handle those situations.
You know your child best and what makes them happy. It’s good for children to experience some challenge and camp is a good safe provider for that. A positive family attitude, discussions about the camp schedule, activities and food, along with gentle encouragement that missing home is “ok” will usually provide your child the tools needed to make the camp transition a valuable growth experience. Camp creates great memories for you and your child and with good preparation and timing that first overnight stay should be a wonderful experience.
Grant Bullard- Director
Gwynn Valley Camp – www.gwynnvalley.com