If you’re a parent, the idea of summer camp isn’t all campfire songs and ghost stories. While you may be excited for your children to experience those things (and more), you may also have concerns as you attempt to make your summer camp decisions:
Will my child like summer camp?
Will he/she make friends?
Will he/she miss me?
Can we afford it?
You’re not alone in these worries. With so many different types of camps for various ages, interests, and price ranges, you have a lot to choose from, which is great – but it can also be overwhelming. So let’s break it down and start with the basics. First, consider your child’s interests and personality.
The first-timers Day camps are an ideal introduction to the world of summer camp. They are a good starting point for many kids – including those who are very young or who have not been exposed to camps before.
Traditional day camp activities are varied, but the important thing to remember is that they are more than an extension of school or day care. A good day camp will afford your child different and unique experiences, building new skills and forming new interests. Day camps often include multiple activities in the course of a session, or even a day, including arts and crafts, archery, sports, canoeing, computers, nature, swimming, woodworking, and more.
The lessons children can learn in these traditional day camps are plentiful; they can roam and play in a way they may not at home and school. Additionally, day camp can be a safe, baby step toward increased independence and time away from mom and dad.
The shy ones (and homebodies)
The key to choosing summer camps for shy children (who may have anxiety about camp) is keeping them comfortable while also encouraging them to broaden their horizons. This can be done in several different ways.
- Sign them up for a specialty day camp, which will tap into their hobbies and interests (e.g., music, sports, animals, etc.). Being around other children with common interests may help them transition well and make new friends.
- A familiar face can go a long way in easing into a new camp experience. Consider enrolling your child in a day camp with a sibling, friend, or classmate.
- Don’t rule out overnight camp. Even (and sometimes especially!) shy children can enjoy and benefit from the rich experiences of sleepaway camps. Sign them up with a friend to lessen their anxiety (and yours).
Dance. Drama. Horseback Riding. Soccer. Computers. If your child has a hobby or special interest, there is probably a specialty camp or program that caters to it. You can do an internet search to get started, but another idea is to reach out to the organizations your child already likes or participates in to find out if they offer summer sessions.
Traditional camp settings also work well for these children. The wide range of activities offered by most non-specialty camps allows children to enhance the skills they have and develop new ones.
The experienced campers (and older children)
Once your child has attended day camp for several years, you may want to consider overnight, or sleepaway, camp. Many children are ready for an overnight option by age 12, but sometimes before that – especially if they’ve enjoyed day programs. Options typically include coed, single sex, and specialty camps, and various accommodations, such as cabins or tents.
Choosing an overnight camp – especially for the first time – is a big decision for parents and children alike. Choose a camp that you are both comfortable with – review its website together, look through materials, and even visit if you can. Keep the lines of communication open for discussing concerns, fears, and excitement, and you’ll both be better prepared for the experience.
Factoring in parent concerns
When making summer camp decisions, you also have to consider your own concerns. Remember that you know your child better than anyone, so trust your gut. But if they’re really not ready for something, don’t abandon the idea of camp altogether. Simply find a program that puts you both at ease – whether it’s finding a camp with a closer location, a shorter duration, or a different focus.
With that said, it’s also okay to challenge your children – and camps are a safe place to do that. They allow children to develop the skills that will enable them to live on their own as adults. They also can create lifelong memories. So consider encouraging your children to step outside their comfort zones (you’ll end up stepping outside of yours in the process).
Of course, there is the cost of camp, which can add up. But there are ways to save on camp costs:
- Day camps fall under the same tax guidelines as day care, so if you have a dependent care flexible spending account (FSA), you can use it for day camp.
- Many sleepaway camps (and many day camps, too) have scholarship programs for families who need it.
- Camps typically have different session lengths. If you can’t afford the entire summer, sign them up for a week. Inquire about these types of options.
Choosing a summer camp isn’t easy. But the experiences and memories that the right camp can create make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Images provided by CDYMCA