Each year, more than 11 million children and adults will attend one of the 12,000 summer camps in the United States. Nearly 60 percent of these programs are sleep-away camps for kids. While some children eagerly anticipate this time away from home, others may find it to be an emotional experience.
For those with children who may be attending sleep-away camp for the first time, there are some things parents can do ahead of time to ensure the child has a fun, enjoyable experience.
Top tips to prepare your child for summer sleep-away camps:
• Begin with practice sleepovers. Choose a relative, family friend or your child's best friend's house to adapt your child to being away from home for the night.
• Visit summer camps. Fear of the unknown is terrifying for many first-time campers. Familiarizing children with a summer camp setting will help put their minds at ease. Let them see what a camp looks like and where the important things (dining hall, bathrooms, bunks) are located. Then you select the top three camps you feel comfortable sending your child to and help your child choose a camp from your top options. This helps them feel invested in the choice, which helps create a positive start to his/her camp experience.
• Meet the camp director. The camp director can often make or break a child's first summer camp experience. Introduce them and allow them to interact before camp begins.
• Offer reassurance. Long before the bags have been packed, offer upbeat words of encouragement. Never discuss how much your child will be missed back home. Instead, keep the focus on them and the positive camp experience. Resist calling your children at camp too often. This contact will sabotage their efforts to separate and succeed on their own.
• Connect through letters and care packages. Write a letter ahead of time so there is a letter waiting for them when they arrive at camp. Always respond to their letters and send care packages in a timely manner, so that your child is never left waiting while children around them receive letters and packages.
• Remember: this is to be a fun experience. You want your children to have a pleasant experience full of fond memories, and that you will be there for them to listen openly to their experience. If a camp is not a good fit, let your child try again next year if they want, but don't push it.