By Mike and Heather Spohr
Is your kid ready for sleepaway camp? If you’ve ever dropped your child off at a slumber party only to receive a 2 a.m. call saying they want to come home, you might think “nope.” But most kids are more ready to experience the rite of passage that is summer camp than their parents realize. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you’re probably thinking. “But is MY kid ready?” Only you (and your child) can say for sure, but there definitely are things you can do to find out — and to prepare your kid for going.
Like most things, different kids are ready at different times. An independent child who happily rushes out the door to go to school might be ready as early as six or seven, whereas a shy or anxious kid might not be ready even at eleven or twelve. Starting with a casual conversation about the idea of camp (not about them going) is a good idea. Do they respond enthusiastically (“Woo-hoo! I’m ready to sing ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!’”)? Or do they shrink away from the idea like a vampire from light? Their response should give you a strong sense of their readiness.
You should also assess your child’s self-care abilities. Can your kid shower on their own? Brush their teeth and groom themselves alone? These are questions you’ll want to ask, but you need to be honest with yourself. Some parents really want their kids to go to camp, so they convince themselves their kid is ready before they are. Others are nervous about the idea, so they decide their kid isn’t ready. It doesn’t hurt to get the objective opinion of a trusted family member or friend.
It’s also important to know that some reticent kids are actually ready to handle sleepaway camp, but need a little (low-pressure) push. This is especially true for older kids. Try having your child talk to other kids who have gone to camp, watch promotional videos on camps’ websites (plus movies like The Parent Trap that portray camp in a fun way), or even visit a camp to see it first-hand. Other ways to make your child more comfortable with going to camp include enrolling them with a friend, sibling, or cousin, and letting them pick the camp of their choice. Yes, you loved the “Crazy Chuck’s Wild Wilderness Camp” you went to as a kid, but your kid might be more happy at, say, dance camp.
Regardless of whether your kid is raring to go or a bit hesitant, it’s a good idea to “practice” being at camp beforehand to ease your kid into the experience. For example, you can pack your child a toiletry bag and then task them with showering, brushing, and grooming themselves without any help for a week. You can also pack a suitcase with clothes and have your kid dress themselves out of it for a week. You can even send your kid to sleep overnight at a friend’s or relative’s home. This will go a long way toward making them — and you — feel a lot more prepared.
If after reading all of this you still don’t think your kid is ready, don’t sweat it. There are alternatives, like family camp or day camp, that can help ready your kid for sleepaway camp in the future — and they’re a lot of fun in their own right!
Mike Spohr is the founding editor of the BuzzFeed Parents vertical, a speaker and a writer. Heather Spohr is the founder of the family blog, The Spohrs Are Multiplying. She is a writer and has been named Blogger of the Year by thebump.com and a Voice of the Year by BlogHer. Together, they wrote The Toddler Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Whiny Unfed.
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