Summer Camps – Adventures Far from Home

Unlike school, you don’t have to go to summer camp, but despite the costs, more than 5 million children attend summer camp each year. Choosing a camp is a personal decision – making a good match for both you and your child. You must take into account your own family’s lifestyle, as well as your child’s needs, personality and desires. The process of choosing the right summer camp should begin long before the first day of the summer. To narrow down the choices, some things to consider are:
  • General interest or specialty camp?
  • Private or nonprofit camp?
  • Affiliated with a church/synagogue or secular?
  • Full summer program or shorter sections?
  • There are also certain standards, such as those that have to do with safety or camper to counselor ratios, which you should not compromise on. However, many other issues are a matter or personal choice. While reading about camps, you should create a checklist of the qualities that you want to find in a camp, prioritizing them so that you can select a program that will meet at least the most important items on your list.

    You may decide, after much thought, that the quality of a particular program is so outstanding that you are willing to set aside certain criteria. While you might want to send your child to a religiously affiliated camp, you may discover a secular program that is a better match. You may also find that a program that is perfect for one child may be not as good as a fit for another. It is important to select a camp that is compatible with both your own child-rearing philosophy and the needs of your child. You want your child to hear the same messages at home and at camp, and this will avoid confusing your child and facilitate parent-camp communication.

    What can my child learn at Summer camp?

    Camp can be just as educational as school, with children learning through experience. Through activities and play, children learn a wide range of skills and develop physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. At camp, children learn by doing, living, and experiencing things for themselves. It’s one thing to watch a program on television, but quite another to experience it in real life.

    At camp, children are given the choice to take risks and try new things. This voluntary nature makes children more open to new experiences, with personal satisfaction as their motivation. Not only are there opportunities to try new things, but camp offers many areas for children to excel in. At a good general interest camp, the non-athlete can shine at arts and crafts, woodworking, or dramatic programs, while the athlete can also find many outlets for their skills. Perhaps most importantly, the two campers learn to live together and become friends despite their varied interests.

    Enhanced Self-Esteem
    Camp offers children many opportunities to become competent. Practicing both new and old skills on a regular basis, it makes sense that there will be improvement. Novices have chances to learn, while those who are more experienced can improve. Learning new skills and improving on old ones builds self-esteem. Children become more independent and self-reliant at camp with their newfound skills.

    Trying New Things
    Sending your child to camp is giving them an opportunity to try something new. No matter how many after-school programs or lessons a child takes, its likely they will never have the opportunity to try all that is offered at summer camp. In a supportive environment, the child can try at something new. The interesting twist to these activities is that, since campers often don’t know anyone else at camp before they go, they are more willing to try activities that their friends at home might not expect them to. The athlete can try out for the camp play, while the artist may dabble in sports. At camp, children can try new things and set their own goals for success.

    Life Skills
    Though years later, your child may not remember capture the flag games or the words to a camp song, the life lessons learned at camp will remain. At camp, a child learns how to take responsibility. The child who has never before made a bed, will learn how to smooth out sheets and blankets and tidy up a cubby. Though counselors will remind and encourage, campers quickly take responsibility for personal hygiene, and for more minor health issues, a camper learns to articulate what hurts and how to get help. All of this personal responsibility further fosters a sense of independence and self-esteem. Camp also improves a child’s social skills by making new friends and learning how to reach out to strangers. At camp, children learn to get along with others, all while living together 24 hours a day, learning about courtesy, compromise, teamwork, and respect.

    Hidden Benefits of Camp
    The benefits of overnight camp are not limited to children, but extend to parents as well. There is relief in knowing that your child is in a safe, exciting environment for the summer. Even if child care isn’t an issue, it’s often hard to find suitable activities for the summer, as well as finding peers for children to interact with. Camp offers entertainment and constant peer company. For parents that have more than one child, camp can give a younger sibling a chance to shine in the older one’s absence. And if you Home school camp is a wonderful way to help your child socialize. For families where all the children go to camp, parents have a chance to do things that would not interest the children. When a child makes it clear how excited he or she to go to camp, these parental excursions are guilt free.

    Is your child ready for camp?
    Given the benefits of a sleepaway camp, it seems that all children should enroll. There are camps for almost all children, including those with special needs. However, there are certainly children who are not ready for an overnight camp experience. Some may not be mature enough to accept the separation from home. Though some camps accept children as young as six, not all children will be ready for camp at that age. Nor will the parents. One of the advantages to waiting is that a child can read and write more readily giving them letters from home to comfort them, and the ability to write letters home to comfort parents.
    However, as parents know, chronological age is never a definitive marker. Some children are more than ready at six or seven, especially those who have an older sibling at camp, while some eight year olds still need a year or two before they are ready to handle the separation of a sleepaway camp experience. Three guidelines can help you to consider your child’s readiness:
    Has your child enjoyed other overnight experiences? Many children eagerly sleep over at friends or grandparents homes, a sign of readiness. When a child is successful spending the night away, it’s a sign that he or she can function independently. However, if you’ve gotten middle of the night calls and had to pick your child up in the middle of an overnight stay, its an indication that he or she is not quite ready for overnight camp.
    Has your child had other camp experiences? It’s helpful if a child has attended day camp prior to going to sleepaway camp. At a day camp, children learn to move from one activity to the next, make new friends, and develop teamwork skills.
    Is your child adaptable? Going to overnight camp requires some flexibility, an ability to adjust to new situations, and a willingness to try new things. Though all children experience some period of adjustment, camp adjustment will be more difficult for the child who is fairly rigid and has difficulty in new situations.
    Generally speaking if by 11 or 12 your child is still reluctant to go to camp, the time might come to give some gentle persuasion and insist that they go. Then encourage and guide to help make this transition easier for them.

    Ready, Set, Go!
    Once you have decided that your child is ready for an overnight camp, there are still several issues you should resolve before even calling for your first brochure. This will help you to narrow down the number of camps in your search.

    Time and Distance
    While some parents chose to send there children to a camp right next to home, others may even send their children overseas for a summer experience. Your family needs to decide how close to home the camp should be. Choosing a camp close to home eliminates some problems, but must face others,. A camp farther from home has a unique set of problems and benefits.

    Close to Home
    Choosing a camp near your home often has many benefits. Travel to and from camp is simpler. Most camps provide transportation to and from camp, usually via buses. Choosing a camp close to home eliminates long bus rides and the possible motion sickness. Lower Costs – You reduce the expense of visiting your child at camp if you can make the visit and return home in the same day. You also lower the overall cost of camp by eliminating or cutting travel costs for your camper. Peace of Mind – There is comfort in knowing that you can reach your child easily in case of emergency. Familiar Faces – Your camper is more likely to bunk with kids from your general region, which may ease the transition. Friendships developed at camp are simpler to maintain during the rest of the year if the kids can easily meet and visit each other.

    At a Distance
    In many programs, campers from a wide geographic area add to the richness of the experience. Many camps are used to making long distance travel arrangements. Campers can fly, alone or with other campers from the area, to a airport close to camp where they are met by camp staff and taken to camp. Travel plans must take into account the age and maturity of the camper. If you are considering a camp far from home, you must work closely with the director to make sure that your camper is comfortable with the travel arrangements.
    Reasons to choose a camp farther from home include:
    It’s worth it – There may be something about a camp that makes the travel worth it. If your child wants to specialize in sailing or mountain climbing, you’ll need to choose a camp that meets those need. A parent may have a preference for a camp that they once attended, even if they no longer reside in the area.
    Diversity – While your camper may not see as many familiar faces in a camp far from home, this may be just what he or she, and you, want. Children may want to separate their camp life from the lives they lead the rest of the year, having the opportunity to begin the program with a ‘clean slate’. Campers often have a sense of freedom when they go to a camp where they don’t know anyone.
    The distance doesn’t bother the camper or parents – Many children find traveling alone, even by airplane, exciting rather than scary. Assuming that proper travel arrangements are made, you may be comfortable with a camp away from home.
    When choosing a camp far from home, discuss what this means with your camper in practical terms. Once your camper arrives on site, the distance won’t really be an issue. Mail can keep campers and parents close in touch even if they are far away. Be sure to be honest with your camper about whether or not you will be able to visit while your child is at camp.

    Camp Size
    The level of program organization will determine the extent that the size of a camp matters. While you don’t want a camp that is so small that your child is limited in activities or friends, you also don’t want a program where your child is lost in the shuffle. The issue is not only numbers, but more importantly, how the camp breaks down the campers into manageable groups. Too small a camp can mean cliques can form, leaving children out, while a large camp may be intimidating to a first time camper. When a program is too large, it becomes harder for the camp to offer all-inclusive activities, like campfires and cookouts. These circumstances make it difficult to build a sense of camp unity and spirit. Also, in a smaller camp you tend to know the Director more closely and feel comfortable asking question or just calling to see how your camper is doing.

    Single Sex or Coed
    A strong case can be made for choosing a single gender camp, but an equally strong one can be made for coed camps. You must consider both your own philosophy and your child’s opinions.

    Advantages of a single sex camp:
    Boy-girl social issues are kept to a minimum, especially among the older age groups. Eliminating the distraction of ‘how you look’ in front of the opposite sex helps put the focus back on the primary goals of a good camp experiences: developing skills, making new friends, and taking risks.
    Most campers attend coed schools, making a same sex camp a different and enriching environment.
    Campers can form friendships with more depth without the distraction of or the competition for the affections of the opposite sex.
    When campers aren’t distracted by social issues, the intensity of play and skill development is enhanced.

    Advantages of a coed camp:
    If you have children of the opposite sex, it can be easier if you can find one camp that suits them both. The mechanics of getting children off to different programs may be too complicated.
    Coed camps can be less competitive than single sex camps. Because there is a more social atmosphere in camp the intensity of play is reduced.
    A good coed camp will focus not on coed relationships but on coed friendships. This can be an important part of becoming a mature adult.

    General Interest or Specialty Camp
    General interest camps offer diverse programming with many different activities and sports, while a special interest camp focuses primarily on a specific sport or activity. Most experts recommend sending first time campers to a general interest camp. A general interest camp gives children the opportunity to try a wide range of activities and interests. Most general interest camps have more staff training and greater sensitivity to the emotional demands of the campers. At a specialty camp, most counselors are hired for the expertise in the specialty, rather than their attention to child development. Thus emphasis is on skill development not on emotional development.
    A good program at a general interest camp will satisfy and challenge the interests of all campers. Even if a talented youngster will surpass the level of competition found at a general interest camp, you may prefer to send him to a program that will test and encourage the camper in other areas.
    However, some children, especially the older first time camper, are very focused on a specific sport or activity and want to spend the summer pursuing that interest. Most specialty camps hold a series of one-week sessions, with campers attending for only one or two weeks a summer. Specialty camps are best for the child who is personally committed to the sport or activity. A specialty camp is not the place to send your child because you think that he should improve his skills. Participating in any activity for ten to twelve hours a day, unless you love the activity, will kill any interest quickly. Specialty campers are for campers who want to immerse themselves in the subject with like-minded individuals.

    Camp Adjustment
    Especially if it is your camper’s first time at a sleepaway camp, you will want to know how the staff handles the adjustment to camp. How is loneliness and homesickness handled? Inquire about the camp policy on telephone contact. Some camps prohibit all calls for campers, others permit calls after a week at camp, while others have unlimited access. Others may allow calls only on birthdays or during visiting days if parents can’t come to camp. Ask about visiting days and the program during those days. Are siblings allowed to visit? Can campers leave camp?

    Session Length: Full Summer or Less
    When looking at camps, you want to know how long most of the children stay. You may prefer a full summer program, lasting seven or eight weeks, or, for family or budget considerations, you may desire a shorter program. Some camps run sessions of varying lengths, from a minimum of one week to a range of varying combinations. Some camps offer only a full-summer program. Some advantages to a full summer program include:
    All campers come and go at the same time. It can be a problem if your child has made a good friend at camp, who leaves after two weeks, while your youngster is staying for another six weeks. Furthermore, all the campers are going through the emotional adjustment to camp at the same time.
    All campers get the same program. It can be disappointing if your child is staying for the first month of camp, and color war, often the highlight of the experience, isn’t held until the second half of the summer.
    The campers have time to build relationships and to sample the wide variety of activities offered.
    Many families prefer a shorter experience for their child. The child may not be ready for a longer program, they want time for a family vacation, or a longer program doesn’t fit into the family budget. It is important to note that shorter sessions do not reduce Homesickness, it often causes a camper to just get stuck, counting the days till Mom comes to save them. Often session lengths differ from coast to coast. Whereas camps on the east coast tend to have longer session lengths, west coast camps seem to favor shorter sessions, with options to combine sessions to stay longer.

    Religious Affiliated or Secular?
    You may decide to limit your search to programs affiliated with your families religion. These types of camps generally incorporate a religious component, while still offering regular camping activities. Be sure to ask how religious components are included in their daily and weekly program. Some camps limit the religious component to holidays, while others include daily prayers as part of the camp day and choose only to celebrate holidays particular to that religion. You may want to ask if the camp will celebrate Independence Day. Although this is a national holiday, some more religiously observant camps choose to de-emphasize it.
    Advantages of Religiously-Affiliated camps include:
    Children become more familiar and comfortable with the traditions and customs of their religious heritage.
    If your family is religiously observant, having your child in an affiliated camp reinforces what is being taught at home and facilitates observance of holidays and customs.
    If your family is not observant, having your child in this type of camp often helps to build a place for religion in the family structure.
    The child finds a peer group within his religion, which can reinforce his commitment to the faith.
    Usually camp is sponsored by the church often reducing the cost.
    Disadvantages of a Religiously-Affiliated camp include:
    Lack of diversity. Most, if not all of the campers will share the same religious background, meaning that your child may not be exposed to a variety of customs, traditions, languages, and experiences.
    If your family is more or less observant than the camp, your child may find this difficult to understand. Some programs are comfortable and used to dealing with the issues, while others may be more judgmental or evangelical.
    It’s staff maybe mostly volunteers.

    American Camp Association:
    Regardless of who runs the day camp program you should make sure they are A.C.A. Accredited. The ACA is an independent association that is responsible for the accrediting of summer camp programs. Of the 1000’s of camps in existence less than 25% meet the rigid standards
    • ACA accreditation verifies that a camp has complied with up to 300 standards for health, safety, and program quality, which are recognized by courts of law and government regulators.
    • ACA-accreditation standards cover all aspects of camp operation from site/food service and health care to management and staffing.
    • The American Camp Association collaborates with experts from The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Red Cross, and other youth service agencies to assure that current practices at ACA-accredited camps reflect the most up-to-date, research-based standards in camp operation.
    • Accreditation is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to health and safety.
    • ACA accreditation assures parents that the camp has had a regular, independent safety audit that goes beyond regulations in most states.
    • Parents can (and should) verify the accreditation status of any camp at any time. This may be accomplished through ACA’s Web site at (Click on Find A Camp!) or by calling 800-428-CAMP.

    What About Friends?
    Should at-home friends go to the same camp? Going to camp with a close friend can lessen pre-camp jitters and to some extent, lessen homesickness, but when best friends are bunkmates, it can complicate adjustment to camp. Some things to consider are:
    Friendships may not be able to survive the effects of living together 24 hours a day.
    An old friendship can limit the development of new relationships.
    If one child is having more trouble adjusting, the other may feel responsible for ‘taking care’ of her friend and ensuring her happiness.
    Jealousy can develop if one camper begins to bond with others, leaving her friend out.
    It’s important to ask the camp what they do to help new campers feel comfortable.

    Budget Concerns
    When selecting a summer camp budget needs to be considered, but a high priced camp is no guarantee that your child will have a wonderful time. Generally speaking, higher priced camps will provide higher staff to camper ratios as well as have better equipment and facilities. Plus they tend to use little or no volunteer staff. There are good sleepaway programs that meet all budgets. According to the American Camp Association, resident camps range from $25 to $200 per day. Many camps, especially those sponsored by nonprofit organizations, offer some form of financial assistance to those in need. The American Camp Association also reports that 85 percent of camps reported offering some sort of financial assistance. Some families have also been able to ‘trade services’ in exchange for a reduced or eliminated camp fee for their children. Parents may be able to work as nurses or office staff in exchange for their children to attend camp free of charge.

    Camp Uniform?
    Some camps have a strict uniform, requiring campers to wear, both on and off site, regulation clothing purchased through a camp outfitter. Other camps allow the children to choose their wardrobe while on site, but require that they wear a camp uniform while on off site trips. Some camps have regulation uniforms and swimsuits for out of camp competitions, while other programs have no policy at all. You must decide if a uniform policy is important to you. Some parents welcome uniforms as shifting the focus from what their child wears to what they do. Keep in mind however, that purchasing a uniform can significantly add to summer camp costs.

    Who Makes the Decision?
    Choosing a Summer camp is an experience that you can and should share with your child. It is important that they feel that their opinion is valued and taken seriously. When your child participates in the choosing process, it helps them to develop the attitude to fully enjoy camp. If you involve your child in the decision making process, then your child will be more committed to making their camp experience a success. The best way to accomplish this is for you to first send away for 3-5 camp videos that you feel best meet the needs of your child. Then allow them to have the final word on the camp that they feel would be the most enjoyable to them.

    This article provided by Swift Nature Camp, Minong, WI.

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