06/26/2015 10:00 am ET Updated Jun 26, 2016

Time to Send Your Child to Sleepaway Camp? How to Choose a Camp and Prepare Your Child

Sleepaway camp can offer incredible growth opportunities for children--they can gain independence and self-confidence, adjust to new, real-life situations, experience new environments and activities, and make new friends. From putting on plays to helping out in the kitchen and engaging in a new sport, camps offer many opportunities for a child to expand their world.

When Is Your Child Ready for Sleepaway Camp?

Many parents wonder at what age a child is ready for sleepaway camp. First and foremost, you know your child's temperament, so that should be your first consideration. How well does your child adapt to new situations? Make friends? Thrive on new experiences? In addition, before sleepaway camp, a child should have attended day camp for a few years. A general rule of thumb, however, for sending a child to sleepaway camp is around age 10 or 11. However, you should have the initial conversation about going to sleepaway camp the year before so your child has time to get used to--and excited about--the idea. It's important for parents to prepare, and involve, their child so the event doesn't seem overwhelming and leave a child worried and sleepless.

Tips to Prepare for the Best Outcome

If you're considering sending your child to sleepaway camp, there are a few important strategies you can use to ensure your child has a positive experience:

  • Initially, camp should be no more than a two to three hour drive from home, so both you and your child feel secure.
  • If you went to sleepaway camp you enjoyed as a child, that's good place to start. Don't assume, however, it's the same now as it was then. Visit the camp and conduct the same research you would of any organization to which you're entrusting your child.
  • Get referrals. Does a family member or friend send their child to a camp they can recommend?
  • Visit the camp without your child first. Meet with the director. Find out the ratio of counselor to camper and how they hire counselors and staff; what types of food is served and if there are options that fulfill your child's unique dietary needs (if any); what the sleeping quarters are like; the policies and procedures on visiting, phone calls and misbehavior; and what a typical day looks like for the child. This way, you'll have all the answers to your child's questions as well as your own.
  • Ideally, some of your child's friends will also be attending the camp you choose.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau for any problems the camp may have had.
  • After you've selected a few camps that you like and that are within your budget, involve the child in the decision making process.
  • Visit the camps again with your child and answer any questions he or she may have. I'm big on including the child in the decision making process as much as possible. Make the decision together so they don't feel like the experience is imposed upon them.
Set Your Child Up to Sleep Well While Away A few great items to send with your child to camp are: a white noise machine, travel blackout shades (if your child is used to a very dark room) and a Himalayan salt lamp (which purifies the air). If your child sleeps with anything special at home, be sure you let them take it with them. Also, let them take one of their bed sheets or a pillowcase. Check with the camp to be sure these items are allowed as camps have different rules and regulations.

Sleepaway camp can be a very exciting time for a child. By following these tips for planning and preparation, it can be a special time of wonder and growth for a child.