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summer camp

Five Tips to Make Sure Your Child Has a Great Time at Sleepaway Camp

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Summer camp is a beloved American tradition, with millions of us cherishing fond memories of marshmallow roasts, lake swimming, and other camp traditions. Going to sleepaway camp can have many benefits for children. The experience can improve independence and leadership skills and provide great opportunities to connect with nature, which is great for your child’s physical and psychological health.

However, some families may be a little nervous about their first experience with overnight camp. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued some guidelines that can help ensure a safe and enjoyable camp experience. We’ve condensed some of the most useful below.

1. Let Your Kid Pick!

Choose a camp together with your child, keeping any particular interests in mind. Giving your child the opportunity to make decisions will help him or her feel more in control. Don’t force sleepaway camp on a child—if he or she just doesn’t want to go, wait another year.

2. Make it a Healthy Stay

All camps should have a recent and comprehensive health history on file for each child. Your child should also be screened for any current health issues on his or her arrival at camp. If your child has any special physical or emotional needs, discuss these with camp staff, and provide a management plan explaining how to handle them. Of course, camp staff should be certified in first aid and CPR.

3. Check out the Grub

Ask about the food your child will be eating. Meals provided should meet federal guidelines for nutrition used in schools, and sweetened drinks should be very rarely provided or simply unavailable. Food should never be taken away as a punishment or used as a reward.

4. Prepare Your Child

If your child has limited experience with being away from you, arrange some sleepovers or short visits for “practice.” Talk about other times your child has been away from home and has had a good time. While you should discuss the possibility of homesickness, be positive and cheerful and don’t lead your son or daughter to expect that these feelings will be overwhelming. (Research suggests that when it comes to homesickness, expectations can become reality!)

5. Prepare Yourself!

Finally, if you’re feeling anxious or upset about the separation, try to keep these emotions to yourself, as they won’t help. And definitely avoid making pick-up plans “just in case”; this can make your child lose confidence in himself or herself.

With these guidelines in mind, your child should be able to enjoy a great first camp experience, coming home with many happy memories.

(Photo credit: Camp Stuart Aquatics Area, Owasippe by Al Hart. Public domain.)

References:

Council on School Health. (2011). Policy statement: Creating healthy camp experiences. Pediatrics, 127(4), 794-799. http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-0267

Thurber, C., Walton, E., & The Council on School Health. Preventing and treating homesickness. Pediatrics, 119(1), 192-201. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/119/1/192.full

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2011). Choosing and preparing for summer camp. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)