As a mom of four and a veteran of sending kids to overnight camp, I often get asked the following questions from parents who are thinking about a week, two weeks, even a month of camp for their kids. Think they’re not ready? Think you are ready for a month without them? It’s OK to allow visions of quiet, clean, kid-free homes and uninterrupted glasses of wine on a patio to help convince you. That’s what I do.
1. What’s a good age to send your kid to overnight camp for the first time? Typically, most sleep-away camps start offering one, two or four week programs to campers aged eight and up. If your child starts showing an interest in camp activities at that age, and is comfortable with sleepovers and being away from Mom and Dad, he or she could be ready. But you’re only going to know if your child is really ready if you send him or her.
2. What camp should your child go to? Some overnight camps are very traditional, with the kids sleeping in cabins, situated up north, near a lake. There would typically be hiking, crafts, swimming, outdoor games, etc. These camps can be coed or gender specific. I sent my kids to all-boys or all-girls camps, which they thoroughly enjoyed. Some camps really focus on “tripping.” What this means is they take the kids on canoe trips overnight, outside the camp. They might be one night, two nights, a week or, in extreme cases, 50 days of tripping in a two-month camp. Make sure that this is something you and your child are comfortable with.
Other camps are more like resorts for kids, with hotel-like accommodations, the latest in boats and water-skiing and recreational facilities.
3. How do they feel about going to camp? Talk to your kids about camp, and if you went as a child, relay some of your (positive) experiences with them. My kids never needed to know I only went for one week and was horribly homesick the whole time. They only needed to know my husband went every summer and loved every minute. Talk to them about what a daily program might be like, and although it can be good to find a camp that some buddies are going to, it can be equally good to have them make their own special camp friends.
4. What do you need to do before they go to camp? If they have never spent a night away from you, you might want to do that. Either with a close friend sleepover or with relatives. Don’t contact them while they’re there: at most camps communication is through letter writing only. Which reminds me: teach them to write a letter and what an envelope and stamp are for. The hardest part of overnight camp for them will probably not be being away from you, but being disconnected from their phones. This is also the best part about overnight camp.