Summer Camp 101: Making the Most of Summer

Tips for all ages.

Summer camp offers all kinds of fun and character-building experiences for kids of any age. Whether you’re looking for a few hours of entertainment or weeks of intentional skill-building for your child, you can find it at camp. To ensure that your child has a positive experience, keep in mind his or her developmental age and abilities, interests, personality as well as the needs of your family.

Age 0 – 5

Day camps offer the perfect opportunity for young kids to experience time away from parents and to explore new activities. Camp for preschool children focuses on free play, sharing with others, group games, (inside and outside) and simple arts and crafts.

If you’re sending your child to camp for the first time, make sure the schedule matches her personality and routine to prevent a stressful experience. Consistency is key. Does your child take a nap? How is rest time built into the day? Should your child be potty trained to attend? Would your child adjust more easily by starting with a half-day camp instead of full day? Are there appropriate breaks for snacks and changes in activity?

It’s important to find out what the counselor-to-camper ratio is for children this age. You want to ensure your child will be adequately cared for with a friendly, well-staffed team. You also want to determine if the counselors are trained to help with issues common to preschoolers including separation anxiety, potty training and temper tantrums.

Consider your child’s interests and find a camp that fits to give your preschool child a chance to socialize and explore new experiences.

Age 6 – 11

Elementary-aged children thrive at camp, whether it’s day camp or stay-away camp. It’s the perfect solution to avoiding sibling squabbles and long summer days. But it pays to do your research to find the right fit for your child.

Camps for this age range from sports camps to music camps to academic camps to church camps. Don’t let the variety intimidate you as you research; start with the interests of your child and ask friends and neighbors to give opinions on camps their kids have attended.

An ideal age for kids to enjoy activities not available at home, camps offer zip lining, archery, rock wall climbing, swimming, arts and crafts, and campfire sing-a-longs with friends. Kids gain independence as they make decisions and meet new friends outside of the comforts of home. They gain self-confidence in trying new activities. And they learn to appreciate the beauty of nature as they unplug from technology. Although they may experience periods of homesickness, they learn to forge through their feelings with caring camp counselors and new friends.

Look for camps that create an atmosphere of safety where children can try new experiences, especially if your child is an introvert or non-competitive.

Shay Robbins, K-1 director at Kanakuk, a 90-year-old Christian camp in Missouri, says that camps offering a variety of activities can help children find something that they can conquer or enjoy.

“Kanakuk’s range of more than 70 activities offers Kampers [sic[ opportunities to try new things,” Robbins wrote in an email. “For example last summer we had a Kamper [sic[ who was interested in jumping on our blob, a big floating pillow on top of the lake. Day after day he watched friends jump and laugh as they slid into Taneycomo, but he just couldn’t conquer his fear. After a few days, he decided it might be worth it. His counselor helped him onto the platform and his entire cabin cheered him on as he prepared to jump. He did it! Conquering his fear in a healthy, encouraging environment gave him so much confidence.”

For children who need more nurturing before transitioning to a full-blown camp experience, parent-child activities in the community might be a good choice.

Specialty camps close to home also help kids explore new hobbies or create opportunities for parents and kids to enjoy camp together. A mother-daughter sewing camp or father-son golfing camp allows great bonding time while developing a skill enjoyed by both.

If your child has never experienced camp, start with a day camp or send a friend along for an away camp. It’s important that the first camp experience be a good one. If you find it wasn’t a perfect fit, try a different one next year. But don’t give up on the beauty and benefits of camp for elementary-aged children.

Age 12 and older

Tweens and teens have better focus than younger children and benefit from camps that more closely match their interests and personalities. Sports, computer/technology, dance, art, theater and music camps are great for this age because they help kids advance athletic skills and enhance specific talents. Academic camps offer youth advanced-learning opportunities in subjects they might want to explore for long-term focus. And church camps offer character-building and self-awareness experiences not learned in school.

Co-ed camps also can offer opportunities for teens to socialize in a supervised setting. Ask about how the camp your teen is interested in handles camper relationships.

“Healthy relationships are an important part of what we teach at Kanakuk to Kampers (sic) of all ages,”Robbin wrote. “Boys and girls are separated for most of the day, with occasional co-ed activities like church, parties and evening worship. We maintain a high staff to Kamper (sic) ratio and are intentional about ensuring that programs are fun, safe and encouraging for all.”

Knowing that hormones and sometimes difficult teen behavior can arise, Robbin said that Kanakuk counselors “handle all situations with the care of a loving parent. Every situation is a teachable moment.”

Camps also provide a safe place for teens and tweens to hang out while parents work during summer break. Youth, especially if they are not driving or are too young for a job, too often allow technology to rule or walk into unsupervised trouble unless parents intentionally seek out creative options.

Whether your teen wants to hone a skill, learn something new or enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways, there is a camp for your child. It’s even possible in a summer to attend camps and activities that cover all of these areas. Once you have defined your needs and identified a budget, encourage your youth to research camps with you to find one that fits.

When kids attend camp, they develop resilience and flexibility that benefits them later in life. A Psychology Today article parallels the experiences of summer camp and the adjustment of college. “Being away from home and your traditional support system (family, friends, familiar places), and dealing with large amounts of uncertainty (what will classes require, how will I fit in socially, can I deal with this new roommate)” are similar adjustments says writer Steve Baskin in “Creating Advantage in College.” Baskin proposes that kids who find success working through these challenges at camp adjust easier when presented with the transition to college.

Summer camp offers unique experiences and character-building opportunities for every child. Whether your child is 2 or 15, camp is the perfect place to find adventure and make lifelong memories in the process.

Questions to Ask

Before sending a child or youth to overnight camp, here are some suggestions of questions to consider from Kanakuk, a 40-year-old Christian summer camp in Missouri:

  • Where is the camp?
  • How long would be best for my child to be at overnight camp?
  • What activities are offered and how do those align with my child’s interests?
  • What is the ratio of campers to leadership?
  • What is the organization’s worldview? Does it match up with the belief system of our family?
  • What is the vetting process for the staff who will be working with my child? How are they chosen and how are they trained?
  • What is the organization’s Child Protection Plan?
Categories: Parenting, Summer Camps