By Susan Baldani
Summer is a great time for kids to take a break from routine and have some fun. However, too much time off can leave children bored and frustrated. Today, most parents have to work and cannot spend as much time as they would like doing activities with their children.
This is why sending your kids to camp can be a life saver. Days spent canoeing, fishing, swimming, and hiking are much better than those spent playing video games and watching television.
Being at camp also gives kids a chance to be a little more independent and self-sufficient. If they are going to a sleep-away camp, cell phones are often not allowed, but children can write home (the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil) to keep their parents up to date about what they’re doing. Some camps even have cameras so parents can follow their children’s adventures.
Of course, for some kids, being away from home can be somewhat intimating and scary. This might be the first time they are away from their family, and homesickness can set in fast. If the camp allows, send them with their favorite stuffed animal, or their pillow, and send pictures so they can see familiar faces.
Children are not the only ones who have to prepare themselves for being away for many nights in a row. Some parents also have a hard time letting go.
As cited by the American Psychological Association, “children may observe and mimic parents’ discussion of worries. And when parents frequently provide verbal warnings, for example ‘be careful,’ children may anticipate danger and fear certain situations.”
Helping your child look forward to and enjoy camp will help them not just that summer, but for years to come. They will learn new skills, make new friends, and become more self-reliant.
In the article Why Summer Camp is Important for Your Kids on urbanpro.com, it states that “summer camp is one place to enrich kid’s psychological aspects such as improve self- confidence, self-determination, thinking process, problem-solving skills and decisions making process (with an absence of their parents) and so on. It builds up the curiosity of self-definition in order to bring out the potential, creativeness, and capabilities of a kid. It also boosts leadership qualities.”
For children whose lives are constantly managed during the year, from their schedules and clothes to the foods they eat, being on their own can be freeing. Psychologist Michael Thompson, in his book Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents, writes about the benefits for kids. “The number one issue for children is ownership. The thing I heard the most in interviewing hundreds of children is you can really be yourself at camp. When you are in your parent’s presence, there is always shared ownership of your life.”
Many parents often wonder how old a child should be to go away to camp. There is no one answer to this question since every child is different. However, there are a few guidelines you can use to determine if sleep away camp is the right decision.
In her Summer Camp Guide for Parents, author Pam Myers, BS. Ed, has some useful guidelines:
• If they’re interested, it’s a good chance they’re ready.
• Has your child spent the night with a friend or relative before? Children who are able to be away from parents before are more likely to be good candidates for an overnight camp experience.
• How responsible is your child? Can they keep track of their own things and wash their clothes if they’re going to be gone for several weeks? Are they responsible enough to use camp money to purchase things they need rather than candy or other junk food?
• Is your child comfortable seeking help from other adults or authority figures if you’re not around?
• Picky eaters may also have difficulty at overnight summer camps. The staff may prepare special meals for a child with allergies or religious beliefs that limit what they can eat.
• Consider sending your child for a shorter session for their first time at overnight camp.
With the right preparations for the child and parents, summer camp can be the perfect answer to the dilemma of what to do with the kids all summer. Parents can enjoy some freedom from the everyday pressures of child rearing, and children can have experiences that they wouldn’t find at home. It’s a win-win situation.
Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine in VA.