For many, summer camp is a favorite childhood memory. And it can play an important role in a child's growth and development. Camp can help children build confidence, make new friends, try new activities and stretch their independence. Most importantly, camp is a place where kids can be kids and simply have fun.
But going away to summer camp can also cause some anxiety, especially for first-time campers or camp parents. See tips to help make your camper's experience a healthy and happy one.
Is your child ready for summer camp?
Every child is different, and there's no single age when a child is ready for camp. In general, children under 7-8 years old may have a more difficult time being away from home than older children.
When considering if your child is ready, start with your child's interest in camp. If your child repeatedly asks to go to camp and is excited when talking about it, that's a good sign they are ready. For younger children or children who are hesitant, consider starting with a day camp. This can be a positive way to ease into the camp experience and gauge your child's readiness for an overnight camp. Think about if your child is comfortable spending the night away at family members' or friends' houses. If not, they are likely not ready for sleepaway camp either.
How to choose a summer camp for your child
There are a wide variety of summer camp options, and with a little research, you can find a camp that is right for your child. Consider how long you want your child to be at camp – camps can range from a few days to a longer summer session. Some camps may specialize in a particular sport or interest, while others may offer a wider variety of activities.
For children with chronic illnesses, there are also camps that serve specific health conditions. These camps can offer children a sense of community while providing the on-site medical supervision needed to keep camp safe.
Before choosing a camp, check references and accreditation, and call the camp to ask any questions. Know the camp's risk management plan, safety procedures and abuse prevention protocols. Find out if campers will be engaging in activities such as swimming or ziplining, so you can gauge whether your child would be able, comfortable and safe to participate in those situations.
7 tips to prepare for summer camp
Preparing for camp can be exciting – and a little overwhelming. Follow these tips to get ready:
- Get a check-up before camp. If your child hasn't had a recent annual physical, schedule an exam before heading to camp. This will help ensure your child is healthy and able to participate in all activities.
- Set expectations ahead of time. In the weeks leading up to camp, talk with your child about what to expect at camp. Remind your child to stay hydrated, follow safety instructions, and not to share hats, helmets or hair brushes.
- Double-check the packing list. Most camps will provide a packing list. Review it early so you have enough time to order any necessary items and review it again after packing. Make sure all items are clearly labeled with your child's last name. Don't forget items like sunscreen, bug spray and a disposable camera! Leave valuables at home.
- Be aware of medical policies. If your child has any food allergies, medications or special health needs, make sure you've communicated with the camp ahead of time. Know who should receive medications, how they will be administered and other policies about health conditions.
- Ask your child how they're feeling. Check in with your child to gauge their excitement or nerves. Let them know that it's okay and normal to miss home and focus on what they are most looking forward to about camp.
- Pack a small reminder of home. Pack 1-2 items to remind your child of home, whether a picture of the family or a favorite stuffed animal. Check with the camp about writing letters. If possible, mail your child a mid-week treat. Many camps are nut-free, so if you want to send food, ask what treats are allowed.
- Prepare for drop-off. Don't linger too long when dropping your child off. Be excited for your child, say a quick goodbye and try to enjoy your own time away!
Mellissa Myers, Nurse Practitioner at Children's Health℠ and Co-Director of Camp Moss (a camp for children with cardiac disease), offers one last piece of encouragement to parents preparing for camp: "You are amazing parents. Although you will miss your child so much, take time for yourself. Consider doing something great for yourself as a treat."
Children's Health is by your side keeping your family healthy and safe this summer. See more summer safety tips.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.