If your child could design a perfect summer, it would probably include plenty of playmates, new things to do every day, and a place to cool off when the summer sun gets too hot.
Year after year, kids discover such perfect summers at day or overnight camp. At overnight camps, in particular, boys and girls learn something about themselves, their environment, and even about their parents, by spending a few weeks away from home. The mother of 8-year-old Rachel discovered that firsthand.
After her first summer at overnight camp, Rachel ordered her mother out of the bathroom while she showered. "She won't let me wash her hair anymore," her mother complained to a friend.
"Isn't that one of the reasons you sent her to camp?" her friend asked in response.
Indeed, it should be. Camping fosters independence in its participants, while giving your child a feel for group living.
Camp broadens social skills and often taps resources your child never had to call on before. Your child will learn to get along with new types of people, too. Rachel, for example, often gets a much-needed break from cliquish school friends by reuniting with her summertime camp friends.
In addition to the social benefits, a summer spent in the mountains or woods heightens your child's awareness of the relationship between humans and nature.
How Old Is Old Enough?
Children as young as 7 can enjoy overnight camp, if they're adequately prepared. The younger the child, the shorter the camping session should be.
A veteran camper of 8 or 9 should be able to handle at least three weeks, particularly if he or she is familiar with the camp and knows other kids there.
What About Homesickness?
The primary problem faced by kids at overnight camp usually is homesickness. It's a natural feeling for a child away from family and friends, but the condition is rarely incapacitating. The staff at any good camp will be prepared to deal with campers who are upset.
Your best approach to homesickness is to start dealing with it at home.
- Tell your child what to expect. Be sure to stress the positive. Many camps offer suggestions and guidelines, some even have orientation programs.
- Write your child often. Frequent letters from home are essential to a successful camp experience. Phone calls are discouraged, if not disallowed, so make sure your child is well-equipped with stationery, pens, and stamps.
- Don't jump to conclusions. If your child's letters contain complaints, don't assume there's genuine misery. Some children have difficulty adjusting to being away from home. Eleven-year-old Bruce wrote his parents complaining about his counselor, the lake, and his "geeky" bunkmates. Fearfully, his parents went to see him on visiting day. To their surprise, they found that he was quite happy; he'd just taken awhile to adjust.
About one child in 200 will be so homesick that going home is the only cure. Usually, though, that child wasn't adequately prepared for camp. The best way to prevent homesickness: select a good camp.
How Do I Choose a Good Camp?
Visit prospective camps, preferably while they're in session. If it's not possible to do that, find out how long the camp has been in operation, how staff are recruited, and the kinds of activities that are offered. Ask about the age range of the counselors, the staff-to-camper ratio, and the nature of the facilities. Get the names of people who have sent their children to the camp, and contact them.
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