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Some of my fondest childhood memories were my days spent at a day camp in Long Island, NY, where I learned how to swim; make lanyard bracelets, meet friends outside of school, and, of course, play kickball. Once I eased towards my tween years, I knew I wasn’t the sleepaway camp type, so my day camp summers ended at age 11 with bittersweet feelings.
Sleepaway or teen travel camp isn’t for everyone (my siblings loved the experience; I was too shy to leave home), but day camps often times prepare kids for overnight camps. Day camps teach kids new skills, introduce them to positive role models—and the kids get to go home at the end of the day, covered in dirt with their sun-kissed hair filled with chlorine!
Need help finding the best camp for your kiddo? Tom Holland, CEO of the American Camp Association, advises parents to engage their children in the camp search. “Their ability to participate in the camp selection process will ultimately help to set the stage for a successful camp experience,” he says.
Holland provides some additional camp advice, which is outlined below.
- The following is a list of questions to ask the camp directors when searching for the right day camp:
· Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association?
· What training does the staff receive?
· Is transportation available?
· What about extended care before and after camp?
· Will the camp provide lunch?
· Are campers grouped by age, activity, or both?
· Does the price include the full range of activities?
· Are parent visits encouraged?
- Parents can plan to send their child to camp with a friend to make the child feel more at ease.
- Encourage kids to explore new friendships. “Camp brings together children from many different areas and from many different backgrounds, allowing children to meet people they might otherwise not at home or in school,” says Holland. “In fact, more than 96% of campers report making new friends, and young people rely on friendships and peers to affirm ‘who they are.’ Additionally, 92% of campers report leaving with higher self-esteem, meaning they are less likely to succumb to negative peer pressure.”
- Check out niche camps. There are specific camps for children with special needs, including Camp for All in Burton, Texas and Camp Greentop in Mountain Park, Maryland. Additionally, there are many camps with programs suited for children with special needs that are incorporated into their day camp or overnight camp atmosphere. “It is always recommended to contact camps and ask the directors questions to find the best camp for your child,” says Holland.
- To gauge the readiness of a child for an overnight camp experience, a parent can ask his/herself:
· Has my child had a positive overnight experience away from home? At a relative’s, friend’s?
· Was the separation during that overnight experience easy or difficult?
- Remember that counselors are experienced—and quite patient—especially in sleepaway situations. “Counselors, directors, and camp staff are prepared and trained to support children who are sleeping away from home, particularly if it is the child’s first camp experience,” says Holland. “They focus on creating a supportive environment for children so that they feel comfortable sleeping at camp and think of camp as home while they are there.”