The joke among seasoned parents is how easy it is to tell which kids are ready for overnight camp. They are the ones hanging around the yellow bus or the dock, instead of hanging onto you.
Everyone wants their child to have a good first experience. Here are tips from experienced parents about how to help get your child ready for overnight camp.
How to help your child get ready for overnight camp
Sometimes it’s the parents that aren’t ready for overnight camp. Once you’ve registered your child, don’t let them pick up on your worry vibes. However, do stay open to listening to [and not fixing] their worries.
Starting them at an early age. Don’t assume because they are six that they are not ready.
Stages of Readiness
Children don’t have to know your ultimate goal of overnight camp. Getting them ready in stages takes the pressure off both you and your child.
Most kids actually want to go to overnight camp, but are anxious about what it will feel like or how to do it. Putting a tent in the back yard helps them practice. Our six year granddaughter helped us raise the tent, then played in it for several days. By the time she was ready for an actual overnight, she was proud of her skills and eager to share it with her friends.
Arranging for a friend to attend overnight camp at the same time is an excellent idea. Don’t worry, however, if it’s not their best friend. Even the presence of a casual friend or a cousin will be enough to help them relax. A bonus, of not send the bestie, is that the presence of new children will help your own child with relationship building skills.
The One Nighter
We registered our six year old for a one night sleepover with her Girl Guides troop. It was helpful that they slept the Church auditorium, a familiar place where the troop met every Monday night. The sleepover also included guiding girls up to age 16. Overnight camps that offer mixed ages of campers are amazingly integrated, the little ones felt cool and safe.
At eight our son also did a one nighter, this time with his day camp staying in tents pitched in our nearby park ravine. Like our granddaughter he was staying in familiar territory, yet his eyes welled up with tears at our departure. I trusted that the counselors were experienced enough to know a real issue when they saw it. We left it to them. The next morning, our son he was all smiles, proud of his accomplishments.
At age ten, he went to away-camp for a month. He still didn’t like it, but we insisted he have the camping experience. Luckily, a two of his buddies were going and he definitely did not want to miss out on the action. The best story was of the three amigos getting into huge trouble after canoeing over the “girls” camp. At least they were wearing their PDFs!
Practice Makes Perfect
The second practice for our granddaughter was two nights with her guiding troop. With mixed age girls they stayed in tents, but at a resort called Sherkston Shores. After a full day of water slides and roasting marshmallows, she slept like a rock and there was no time for feeling sad.
Let Them Solve Their Own Problems
Two days before our granddaughter left she said, “Grammie, I think when it’s dark and time to go to bed I might get a bit sad.”
My heart was in my throat. I really wanted her to go, but I also wanted it to be a good experience. I took a breath, gave her a hug and said, “OK. How will you handle that?”
Pausing as a parent is the hardest thing to do.
Let them take a comfort toy or blanket. Not the favourite stuffy, but a good one.
Because she’s not allowed to bring them to school anymore, our granddaughter was pleased to choose a comfort toy saying, “If I get sad, I can hug them all night.”
The One Weeker and Honesty
Next up for our granddaughter is a full week at Guiding Camp in Haliburton County. She’s had the experience of overnights, riding in a bus, taking direction from other adults and being in a tent.
I’ve explained to her that this camp won’t be as much fun as being at a Resort. This camp doesn’t have water slides, it might be rainy and it might have bugs.
I think she’s ready.
Tenting vs Cabins
Not all away camps offer a choice of tents or cabins. If your child is already used to a cozy cabin with bunk beds, I can’t imagine talking her into tenting. If it’s important to you that she have that experience, do it early and do it often.
Communication with the Camp
If appropriate send SASE. The ability to write down how they are feeling and mail it off can be therapeutic. It’s important, however, that they understand you may not be writing back.
It’s so much fun for parents to see the environment where their child is spending their away time. Children also have a lot of pride in showing you around.
If you are a visitor at camp, don’t overstay your welcome.
The worst thing parents can do is be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Like playing peekaboo with a baby, the repeated pattern of your coming and going helps to desensitize children to challenging life events.
Sending packages or mail to camp can be a fun experience for parents and for children. Unfortunately all kids want from you is candy, toys, money or electronic gadgets. These are exactly what most camps don’t want you to send and the items will be confiscated.
Instead, and only if your child is away for a month or more, you could send items suitable for the camp experience. Depending on the child, they might enjoy comic books, temporary tattoos, puzzles, star maps or dramatic items like a faux feather boa, moustaches, funny glasses or hats. Here are some more ideas
In the end, if you or your child are just not ready for away camp, don’t do it. There are plenty of other opportunities for learning at the hundreds of excellent programs right in your own neighbourhood.