St. Vincent de Paul Camp, est. 1971
A Summer of Fun, a Lifetime of Memories!
Read about what it takes to be considered “accredited” by the Ontario Camps Association: The process and and the standards required by camps
Is my child ready for stay-over camp?
How can I tell?
The majority of kids do just fine at camp. In fact, many parents notice that their kids are happier, more outgoing, and generally better off at the end of the week than they were at the beginning, despite any reservations they may or may not have had at the beginning of the week. All normal. All natural. All planned. Camps want kids to grow and expand while at camp and take their new skills home with them! Although we want all of our kids to achieve similar things as they develop, John who is 10 years old might not be ready for camp, while his sister Sarah, who is 4 years old, might be as ready as she’ll ever be, despite being too young! (We’ve seen this, by the way!)
We have seen children, at 6 years old, who are leaping out of the car with excitement, pushing mom and dad away, participating in absolutely everything, and never wanting to leave at the end of the week. We’ve seen 15 year olds who went through weeks of convincing just to get them to step out of their vehicle. We’ve certainly seen every reaction in between, at every age from 5 years old to 15 years old. While it is true that older children will *generally* adjust easier than younger children, a variety of factors will contribute to that tricky prediction of how your child will act at camp, which we’ll discuss these in a moment. It’s not straightforward, it’s not clear-cut. It is a challenge and will always take some work on our parts (the parents), but not to worry; The payoff is well worth it!
I remember a child at our camp not so long ago, best described by his mother as “shy”, “reserved”, “keeps to himself”, “not very outgoing”, and the list goes on. Mom also made a point to call almost every day to check up on him; she would often insist on speaking with her son directly, despite instance from my lead-staff that he was currently swimming, in the middle of the woods, or in the involved of some other immersive activity.
When we would eventually call him down to the main office, the reason for his being there generated the following reactions: Confusion, disappointment, and frustration. Confusion at why his mom was calling in the first place, disappointment that he was missing his activities, and frustration that we kept calling him down to the office to take phone calls! I believe the conversation he had with mom went something like this (we could only hear his side of it): “Yep – yep – uhhuh – yep – ok bye!” Click. Eager to get back to whatever he was enthralled in at the moment, he dashed out of the office and ran back with his cabin group. Naturally, the senior staff and I were toppled over laughing over what just happened!
We all have to be careful about pre-judgements regarding how someone may or may not react to a certain situation – even if they are our kids. Many times, if given the chance, kids can do some pretty amazing things that just stop and make us jaw-drop (in a good way!).
Now, for your child (because I promised ways to help predict): Things such as “has your child spent a night, or more, away from home? On his own?”, “is your child outgoing?”, “Does your child make friends easily?”, “Is your child easy going?”, “Would you describe your child as relatively self-sufficient?”, “Do they react well to routine changes?”, “Do they like surprises? Or are they ok with surprises?” These questions about your child’s personality give indications to how well he or she interacts in a group setting. Introverted kids can do just as well at camp as extroverted ones. If kids are generally comfortable with group-skills at their age level (indication: They get along fairly well with peers at school), then they will probably have a successful experience! Things like staying overnight at a friend’s house or spending time away from home are all “practice elements” for camp, among many others.
However, the best indication is unfortunately one that is very much overlooked by parents and I alluded to it in my story. Sometimes we can easily fall into the classic “what I *think* my child can or can’t do and what my child *actually* can or can’t do. Does your child feel he or she is interested in camp? Not necessarily ready, not necessarily “head-over-heels excited, but looking, talking about it, and interested? This isn’t a question parents can answer… at least not without speaking directly to their child. If the child expresses an interest in camp (or more than just an interest), than this is a good indication of the readiness and I advise encouraging the thought! Few people are ever completely ready for anything, including kids, but if they think they “might be ready” which, from them, translates to “I’m interested in this a little… or alot…” then this is a good place to start
Practicing for camp (sleepovers, group activities, etc) and talking about camp (looking at pictures, viewing the website, looking at schedules and routines) are just as important as a child’s “developmental readiness” for camp, which, as mentioned before, varies greatly from one child to the next. I’ve had many parents who didn’t discuss camp with their child, didn’t ask if they wanted to go, and didn’t talk about the camp itself or the routines. All of it was basically a surprise: “You’re going, you’ll have fun, and we’re here! Have fun.” The intentions are good – if I don’t give my child the opportunity to say no, they’ll go, they’ll have fun, and they’ll be better for it! In a way yes, but the approach is a bit off. As adults, we don’t like decisions to be made for us. Why would we think kids are any different? Yes, it has to be done sometimes (ok, most of the time) but giving them some control, or at least giving them a voice in the matter while talking about it ahead of time can go a long way toward a very successful experience at camp.
None of this is clear-cut, and none of it is guaranteed. At the end of the day, some kids just aren’t ready to go. I’ve had parents who didn’t discuss camp with their kids, and sent them, and things bombed big time, while the same approach with other kids worked out fine “Thanks mom & dad for making me go!” Even talking with them and preparing them doesn’t give them a guarantee. Some kids are ready when they are 6 years old, others not until they are 16 years old. I never went to camp as a child (I camped and travelled with my family). Hard to say if I would have been a good candidate, being very introverted, but I started working at camp when I was 17. 10 years later and still at it, it makes me wonder if I should have! You can bet I’ll do my best to encourage my kids to go when the time comes because it’s an awesome, amazing, unique, and irreplaceable experience! As mentioned at the beginning, 99% of kids do very well at camp regardless, and come away better for having the experience.
Preparing kids for camp takes time just like preparing them for any other experience. Visit the camp, take a tour if you can, check out events where the camp may have a booth (this would be a good time to meet some of the summer staff) check out the website, look at the routines, pictures, find out if other friends have gone to camp and how their experience was, talk to parents of those kids – all of this with your child! Finally, talk with your child. Ask them how they feel or what they think, or how they think it might work out and respect that decision. Sure, encourage them if they aren’t sure, but try to step back if you feel they are ready and all they are saying to you is “I want to go!”
For specific ways to prepare your child for camp (we discussed some of them briefly in the article), Click Here.