Starting to think about overnight camp for your child?  Overnight camp provides your child with the opportunity to gain important life skills from independence to resilience.  But is your child ready for the experience?  When thinking about sleepaway camp for your child, parents want to consider the following:

Age – Age is certainly a factor but each child is different and while one child might be ready for camp at age 7, another child may not be ready until age 9.  There is no right age to begin camp—maturity is a bigger factor than age.

Readiness – Often times, parents just know when their child is ready.  They might start asking questions about overnight camp because their friend or older cousin is going.   Other times, parents may feel their child is ready but their child isn’t so sure.   Ask yourself the following questions as a starting point to help determine readiness.

  • Does your child have successful sleepovers with relatives and friends?
  • Does your child enjoy staying busy with activities all day?
  • Is your child able to take care of basic self-care such as showering unassisted, brushing hair and brushing teeth

Answering “yes” to these questions is a good start.  If your child is hesitant about the idea, you don’t want to push him or her into camp but positive messages and encouragement is helpful to help your child overcome any nervousness about the new experience.  

Interest – Looking at a camp’s website, attending a camp fair, going to a camp’s fall/spring festival or touring a camp with your child can be helpful for both you and your child in deciding whether your child is ready for camp as well as if the camp is a good fit for your family.  Pay attention to what your child says while watching the camp video or the questions he or she asks during the tour.  You also want to notice your child’s body language and what that tells you.  It’s normal for a child to be nervous about any new experience so having open and honest conversations about what camp is like will help your child visualize what a summer at sleepaway camp will be like. 

Preparing for Camp

Once you determine your child is ready for camp, now it’s time to think about preparing them for the experience.   While you want to get your child excited about camp, you don’t want to talk about it all year long. A year is a long time in a child’s life so over talking camp can make your child feel nervous.  As camp approaches, talk about what a day is like at camp, all the activities the camp offers and what it will be like to sleep at camp.  Let your child know it’s ok to miss mom and dad but that you know he or she will have a wonderful time.  Many camps host new camper get-togethers, orientation and partner new campers with a “big brother” or “big sister” before camp begins.  All of these help ease your child into camp life and will help prepare your child for the best summers of his or her life!

Jess Michaels is the Director of Communications for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ.  She has two daughters, both who will be attending day camp this summer.   Parents looking for free, one-on-one advice in finding a camp can call the American Camp Association, NY & NJ at 212.391.5208.