Sleepaway Camp is one of those topics that empassions parents. To some, it’s a rite of passage that every child should experience. For others, a source of unnecessary stress.
It might surprise you that only 16.2% of kids in the US go to camps. That number includes day camps as well as sleepaway camps. How do you know if camp would be a constructive and fun choice for your child?
While day camps are great experiences for most kids, sleepaway camps take a bit more planning and thought. What is sleepaway camp and what do you need to know? Here’s your guide.
What is Sleepaway Camp?
As the name suggests, a sleepaway camp is any camp where kids stay overnight. This differs from day camps, which offer activities during the day but send kids home each night.
Some sleepaway camps are only a few days. Others can last a couple months. For many parents, even a night or two away sounds like a daunting idea for their little one.
While it can come with stress, sleepaway camp can offer unique advantages for kids of all ages. It helps them build confidence and independence, as well as an ability to cope with new environments and new people.
Still, it could backfire if your child isn’t ready. How do you know if your child can benefit from sleepaway camp?
How Do I Know if My Child is Ready for Sleepaway Camp?
Some parents expect to see a specific age at which kids are ready for sleepaway camp, but that’s not realistic. You recognize better than anyone that kids all develop at their own rate.
In general, kids can be ready for sleepaway camp starting around ages 7-9. The key isn’t in the age on their birth certificate, though. It’s all about their maturity level and what they can and can’t handle. Here are some ways to tell if your child is ready.
They Handle Sleepovers and Vacations Well
The best indicator of how a child will deal with spending nights away from you is how they’ve dealt with them in the past.
Of course, sleepovers and vacations with the grandparents are different than camp because kids are in a somewhat familiar environment. If your kids struggle to deal with independence in that setting, they probably won’t do well in a wholly new environment like camp.
They Take Care of Their Basic Daily Hygiene
On a practical level, many people say that this doesn’t matter as much. It’s true that they’ll have counselors who will make sure they keep up with their hygiene at camp.
The reason we list this, though, is that it’s a great indicator of independence. If your child is responsible enough to shower, brush their teeth, and brush their hair every day, it’s a sign of a maturity that will help them at camp.
Keep in mind that we’re not saying you shouldn’t ever need to remind your kids to shower. We’re just saying you shouldn’t have a battle with your kids every day to get them to care for their hygiene.
They Do Well with Group Activities
One of the core concepts of camp is teamwork and group cooperation. Kids do almost all of their activities in groups of various sizes.
If your child doesn’t play well in groups, they might not be ready for camp. In that case, you might want to start with other programs that involve groups, like karate lessons or dance classes. This will help them learn group dynamics before they jump into such a group-centric setting like camp.
They Can Cope with New Situations
Some kids handle change and new situations better than others. Heck, the same is true for adults.
Your child’s first time at sleepaway camp will be wall-to-wall new adventures. That’s part of the benefit: learning new skills and meeting new people.
It’s natural for kids to be hesitant in new environments. The difference is whether your child will warm up to them eventually or whether they shut down and stop functioning.
If your child isn’t able to cope with new experiences, you might want to start with smaller situations and work your way up to sleepaway camp.
your child wants to go – don’t force it if they’re not interested
They Can (And Do) Follow Instructions
When kids are at camp, it’s important that they listen to the counselors and follow instructions. It’s a cooperation issue as well as a safety issue.
It’s important to make sure your kids respect authority and are willing and able to follow instructions before you send them to camp. It’s also a good idea to talk to them ahead of time and tell them how important it is to listen to their counselors.
Kids with Differences and Disabilities
The criteria above are helpful benchmarks to determine if your kids can handle sleepaway camp. We’re well aware, though, that there are many kids who don’t fit the benchmarks above due to various conditions or disabilities.
That doesn’t mean these kids shouldn’t go to sleepaway camp. Instead, there are camps that are catered to their specific needs, including training professionals who know how to help them.
If your child has a developmental delay or other condition, there are plenty of camps for kids with autism and other disabilities.
Preparing Your Child for Sleepaway Camp
Every parent has some level of fear before they send their kids away to sleepaway camp. While we’ve answered questions like, “What is sleepaway camp?” and “Is my child ready?” we can’t take away your worries that your child will struggle with camp.
The key is determining if they’re mature enough to enjoy camp and choosing the right camp for them. Camps range in length, so start with shorter camps and work your way up. Look for a camp that fits your child’s interest. The more engaged they are int he activities, the less likely they are to get homesick.
For more great tips about sending your kids to camp, reach out to our camp advisor.