When is my child ready for camp?

This is a question that I'm sure nearly every parent has asked as they sign their child up for camp. I truly wish I had a good answer for it. All I have are experiences of seeing homesickness hit nearly every age imaginable (including my adult staff!).

I can tell you this - and it surprises a lot of folks. The age where homesickness is the most severe - most unsolvable is our Trail Blazer age (campers going into grades 5-7). Strange, right? We chalk that up to families who worry that their child isn't ready in the elementary years and then send them for the first time when they may have little experience sleeping away from home. 

Though there may not be the perfect age to start camp - the earlier a child can get into camp, the greater experience they have building independence, resilience, and confidence to succeed.

A bit of a disclaimer as you read through the indicators: 5 to 8 year old do not have to have mastered these skills listed below before they come to camp. Camp is all about learning and growing. Your child does not have to "have it all figured out" before they come to camp.

Okay - let's get into it. Here are some of the camp readiness indicators:

Your child can take care of their personal hygiene.

Our staff are very good at reminding kids brush their teeth and shower but it's important that they know how to do this on their own. We know that camp is full of new experiences for kids - we just don't want showers or brushing their teeth to be one of those firsts!

Your child is asking and pushing you to go away to camp.

Sometimes there's no guesswork involved. Your child may have started hounding you when they were 2 years old (that was me). Some kids innately know that they are ready for a grand adventure on their own.

Of course, there are some children who will need the push from their parents to consider a sleepaway camp, which is also perfectly normal. What is important to note is how your child reacts to the suggestion. Are they excited or intrigued by the thought of an adventure on their own or terrified/afraid of going somewhere on their own.

Your child has had successful sleepovers away from home.

These can be sleepovers at a friend's house, a grandparent's or another relative's house, but the key is that it is at someone else's home. When the sleepover is over, debrief or process the experience with your child and the caregiver to determine how independent your child was and how positive the experience was for them. Did your child enjoy it? Were they able to sleep? Did they show signs of anxiety or any regressive behaviour? Did they want to phone home or were they worried about home at all? If it went off without a hitch, not just once but a couple of times, you know that your child can sleep away from home.

This will likely not only build resilience against separation anxiety (homesickness), but it opens the door for you to discuss it with your child. Practicing sleepaways is also a great thing to practice in the months leading up to camp.

You child has experience with babysitters at night who can successfully put them to bed.

If no one, besides you or a close relative, has ever put your child to bed, your child probably will not appreciate experiencing this for the first time at a sleepaway camp. Bedtime is the number one time of the day that is often most stressful to children who are away from home, as they associate sleep with the routines they most often have with their parents.

"Separation from Mom and Dad is..."...the primary key psychological and emotional benefit for children and parents going to sleepaway camp"Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychologist and author in California explained in Medical Daily. Knowing they are comfortable being separated from you at home means they can transition to being cared for by their counselors at camp.

Your child can successfully navigate new situations.

If your child has been able to adapt to new teachers or coaches, a classroom that is filled with unfamiliar kids, new after-school activities or a move to a new school, these are all indicators that they can easily get into the groove of camp.

Your child is interested in trying and learning new things.

We are all creatures of habit, but camp is filled with opportunities to make new friends and try new things. If they get excited about new things and going on adventures (rather than dread), camp is a great place. Understand that kids often figure out that they are able to make friends through their camp experience.

Your child knows what sleepaway camp means.

It's easy to forget that your child may have NO IDEA what a sleepaway camp means. All of your nostalgic memories often mean nothing to your child who has never experienced them. Be part of the process of introducing the idea and the meaning of sleepaway camp to your child:
  • Watch Camp Evergreen videos with your child here.
  • Attend our Open House (afternoon of free activities and a great chance to look at the cabins or out-trip sites your camper will be experiencing) on June 27.
  • Attend a retreat or run our Tough Camper Run to experience some of the fun we offer.
  • Phone the camp and arrange a tour of the site.

Remember! You've got more than four months until the first camps in July start. That's a ton of time to start practicing the skills listed above. If you have any questions, just drop me an email!

Until next time!

Courtney aka: Jogee

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