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Ready for Summer Camp?

April 14, 2014


Parents need to look at a child’s temperament when determining a good age to send their child to camp, especially in the areas of trying new experiences because some kids dive right in but others are slower to warm.

Stephanie Agnew

parent education coordinator

Parents Place San Mateo

Summer camp can be one of the most exciting and confidence-building experiences for a child. Meeting new people, trying new things and experiencing new places – all without mom or dad — can be very enriching for a young child.

But how do you know when your child is old enough to benefit from the new experiences that camp presents? And how do you set your child up for success in a day or sleep-away camp environment?

“Parents need to look at a child’s temperament when determining a good age to send their child to camp, especially in the areas of trying new experiences because some kids dive right in but others are slower to warm,” says Stephanie Agnew, parent education coordinator for Parents Place San Mateo.
Agnew says that since all transitions are difficult for children, typically children under the age of 5 should remain in a familiar situation, such as the child’s normal preschool environment, rather than a short one- or two-week day camp setting.

Tell-tale signs your child is ready

Jodi Fernandez, recreation supervisor for the Redwood City Parks and Recreation Department, says that age aside, there are a few telltale signs that your child might be ready for day camp.
“Your child is probably ready for camp if he or she shows signs of independence, goes to school and is accustomed to being separated from you for extended periods of time,” she says. Another sign could be if your child genuinely enjoys making new friends and feels comfortable during play dates with other children.
There is no perfect age for sleep away camps, according to Agnew, although she says that children around 10 years old and approaching middle school are usually prepared to enjoy a residential camp.
“Ten is a good guideline for when they are ready to be away from home without a familiar adult for an extended period of time,” Agnew says.
The way your child acts in a group setting might be another indicator of whether or not your child is ready to for the rigors of residential camp.
“Is your child adventurous, outgoing, willing to take risks and make mistakes, fairly independent in playing and thinking? Is your child able to keep track of his or her belongings, do they care for their basic needs pretty independently, meaning they don’t have to be coaxed to eat and don’t have trouble falling asleep . . . these are things you should watch for because they will indicate whether or not your child might be ready,” says Agnew.

Wait until they’re ready

Whether a day camp or sleep-away camp, the most important thing for parents to remember is that summer camp is supposed to be fun, and “it’s not important enough to force it upon your child before they are ready,” says Agnew.
So how do you set your child up for success?
There are a few things that camp and parent experts believe will ease the transitions and help your child sit back and enjoy the campfire.

Hype it up, but don’t over talk

“Have faith in your decision to send your child to the camp you chose for them,” says Kelly Meehan camp director at Presidio Community YMCA in San Francisco. Parents who have diligently researched and familiarized themselves with the camp and camp staff are better suited to passing on a positive message to their children about the camp and the activities the child will be exposed to.
But be sure not to “overtalk” the situation, recommends Jamie Holden, director of Trinity Presbyterian Nursery School in San Carlos. “Sometimes parents tend to overtalk the situation so they actually make the child more nervous about the situation,” she says.
Holden suggests discussing the camp in a non-emotional tone, providing the child with a few facts about camp. She suggests briefly talking with your child about the camp the day before and not the night before when the child is in bed and tired because in the child’s mind, the focus becomes the parent leaving the child.

Ease separation anxiety by having discussions beforehand

Using kid-friendly terminology will help a child understand why a parent can’t stay with the child at camp, says Holden.
“Something like … There isn’t room for parents to stay it’s only for kids to play, it’s the way the program is run, or on the drive to camp let your child know that you will stay for a minute but once the child gets into groups, mommy has to leave,” recommends Holden.
For some kids, having something in their pocket, back pack or lunchbox, maybe photo of the family or a pet gives a child something to check in with if they are feeling lonely or uncomfortable, suggests Agnew.

Have a clear exit strategy

“A short and sweet goodbye works best for all,” says Fernandez. After you sign your child into camp, give them a hug and kiss, introduce them to their leader, and tell them to have a great day. Avoid lingering and your child will most likely become engaged in the many activities camp has to offer.

Which camp to choose?

Jodi Fernandez, recreation supervisor with the Redwood City Parks and Recreation Department says when choosing a camp it is important to first consider whether your child would do better in a full day or half day situation.

“If a full day would be too long, consider sending them to a half-day camp. Many times a half-day is a perfect amount of time for a new camper,” she says.

Another thing to consider is the type of camp your child might enjoy. Is your child crazy about the outdoors, dinosaurs, soccer, dance, art, bugs, fairytales or cooking? There are many different types of camps to choose from and sticking with your child’s interests can help your child enjoy the experience more. Fernandez says that many camps will have a theme listed when you sign up.
It is also a good idea to ask friends and neighbors for camp suggestions as they can be a strong resource. Also check your local parks and recreation department, as well as the county’s recreation department and various museums, zoos and gyms for specific camps.