summer camp kidsSummer camp is a time-honored tradition, rich with activities, newfound friendships, and the opportunity to create a lifetime of memories. Explore a few ways to make your child’s camp experience smooth sailing from start to finish.

1. Camp Ability

According to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, children who participate in summer programs—like experiential learning activities offered in an organized camp—are less likely to have a significant summer learning slide and lose the academic gains they made the previous year in school.

Camp also enhances a child’s physical and emotional well-being. Activities build social skills, teamwork, and independence, which contribute to stronger self-confidence and leadership abilities.

Specialty camps center around an activity such as music, art, sports, or science. They provide children the space to explore and develop a skill that interests them.“Specialty camps tend to run partial days and could be a nice addition to regular day camps,” says Doug Berkel, a senior program director of youth development services with the YMCA.

“I often hear from parents how amazed they are when their children return home after spending time at camp, about how they seem older and more mature,” says Berkel.

2. Camp Quality

If you’re still in search mode, decide with your child what skills you want her to gain this summer. Choose a camp that fits her needs and interests, as well as your family’s values.

Check out safety guidelines in the camp’s parent handbook. Look for overnight camps accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). “ACA standards are the most universal and well-known standards adopted by most camps to ensure a quality and safe program,” Berkel says.

Day and specialty camps should carry a current state childcare license. Additionally, staff should be trained in emergency, communication, and safety procedures, behavior management techniques (including handling homesickness), and child-abuse prevention.

3. Camp Friendship

Day camps are a practical way to introduce children ages 5 to 12 to the camp experience. Most focus on a theme like sports, science, nature, technology, and the arts.

Mom Ann Bowley says when her stepson, Trevor, was younger he enjoyed planning out the day camps he wanted to attend each summer. However, as her son got older, he grew more apprehensive about starting over with a new group of kids each week.

“We talked to him about it and he never changed his plans. We just looked for schoolmates that might be in camp with him to help him be more comfortable,” she says. 

There are advantages to both approaches. Kids who go to camp with friends they already know feel comfortable from the get-go and can launch into activities right away. For other kids, the joy of making new friends and developing social relationships might be more rewarding than the activities.

Children who participate in summer programs . . . are less likely to have a significant summer learning slide.

4. Camp Independence

Overnight camps, typically in an outdoor setting, can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, and are generally offered for children ages 7 and up. If you aren’t sure your child is ready for overnight camp, let him spend the night at friend’s house on occasion. Or take advantage of a weekend family camp opportunity, perhaps offered in the spring or fall to familiarize campers and their families with the facilities and staff.

Preparation and an awareness of what to expect can ease the transition from home to camp. Before your child departs, review a list of everything she’ll need. Pack a physical connection to home, like a favorite sleeping bag, stuffed animal, or pillow.

Also mail a card timed to arrive before the end of camp. Tell your child how you look forward to hearing her camp stories, but avoid saying how much you miss her, which can trigger homesickness and worry.

Initial nervousness isn’t unusual. If your camper asks to come home, says one 14-year veteran Boy Scout leader, soccer coach, and father of eight, consider the situation, but encourage your child to discuss his anxieties with his counselor and take it day by day. “Tell him, ‘Yes, today was hard, but I think it will be better tomorrow,’ and usually tomorrow is better,” he says.

While your child may struggle at first, chances are he’ll come home a happy camper with heightened self-confidence, memorable stories, and a passel of new friends.

Camp Stats

  • More than 10 million American children will participate in camp this summer.
  • More than 95% of campers experience occasional homesickness.
  • Nearly 75% of campers try new activities they were initially afraid to do.

Freelance writer Christa Melnyk Hines expects the camp experience will be easier on her children than it will be on her.

What do you think your children have taken away from camp, or will take away from camp, besides good memories of fun times?