How To Prepare Your Child For Overnight Camp

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This is a great article from The Denver Post that gives parents some hints on how they can prepare to send their kids off to camp for the summer, as well as some things they can expect down the road. It also touches on the many benefits to sending your kids to overnight camp, such as the independence, the break from tech, and the ability to navigate waters later in life.

See the full article here: 

http://www.denverpost.com/summercamps/ci_29532232/how-prepare-your-child-overnight-summer-camp

 

How to prepare your child for overnight summer camp

Plan now and check in: Is your child ready for overnight summer camp?

Special to The Denver Post
The Denver Post

Posted: Thu Feb 18 12:54:05 MST 2016 

Overnight camp can be a thrilling proposition for a child: sleeping away from home, meeting new people, and trying adventurous activities such as ziplining, climbing, horseback riding and archery. However, big milestones in life that excite us tend also to be scary, and a child's first sleep-away summer camp is no different. 

"Camp can sometimes be uncomfortable for parents and for the child, but that's kind of how we grow," says Jeff Cheley, co-director of  Cheley Colorado Camps. "Research shows that kids who go to summer camp are more successful when they go off to college or when they get into that first job, in making friends and when dealing with adversity. These are gifts you can give your children."

But parents can also give their child the benefit of preparedness, and several local experts have some concrete advice on how to help a kid have the best possible camp experience before they even pack their duffels. 

 

Let them plan

In essence, summer camp is a vacation that your child takes alone. One way to prepare them for that experience is to let your child make decisions when your family has outings ahead of camp, either large or small. 

"Let a kid plan out a sleep over with a friend or a weekend excursion with the family," says Matthew Sullivan, summer camp director for  YMCA of the Rockies. "Just as they're going to be choosing their camp experience, let the kid pick and choose the activities they want to do or even where the family wants to go."

After all, most campers will be given a choice of activities to participate in, and they always have the choice of how to behave or treat others. 

"In real life, children don't need to make a lot of decisions. (But) at camp, they learn to make choices and live with them," says Cheley. "They may have some failure, but it won't be a dangerous failure. Children need to learn how to fail and that you can get through it."

 

Give them your trust

Similarly, you can prepare your children for camp by allowing them more independence now. In some cases, this requires trusting them with more responsibilities. 

"It's more about learning how to work through things without your mom or dad looking over your shoulder," says Sullivan. "Here, they'll have duties within the cabin, like sweeping the floor or other chores." YMCA campers also take turns helping at meal times as "hoppers." While at backpacking- or hiking-driven camps, kids need to take on different important roles to support the group. 

At home, let them pack their suitcases for trips or even their backpacks for school, advises Brooke Cheley Klebe, co-director of Cheley Colorado Camps. 

"If you're always micromanaging them, it will be hard once you're completely out of the picture," she says. "As a good example, I might say, 'Meet me at the back door ready to go,' instead of asking if they have their homework, if their shoes are on, if they got their snack." If they make mistakes or forget something, they'll experience the consequences and learn to get by without — just as they'll have to at camp.

 

Take breaks from tech

One of the big benefits of summer camp is disconnecting from the everyday to enjoy new experience and face-to-face connections. Therefore, some families find it helpful to take breaks from electronic devices, video games, cellphones and social media before camp to prove they can. 

"They're worried about missing friends and FOMO, that 'fear of missing out,' " says Cheley. "Once they're up here, though, they realize they're not missing that much — but what their friends at home are missing is riding a horse or standing atop a 14,000-foot peak or completing a Tyrolean traverse."

Of course, getting comfortable with not being in constant contact is an idea to which parents need to adjust, too.

Says Michael Ohl, executive of YMCA's Camp Chief Ouray, "There can be quite a bit of anxiety on that side. They say, 'What do you mean I can't talk to my child every day like I always do?' "

 

Prepare for homesickness

No matter how outgoing or excited they are, most kids experience some degree of homesickness, and it's vital to make a plan to handle that very normal emotion. 

"Don't ignore that it may come up. Sometimes being homesick is part of the process," says Cheley Klebe. "One thing that helps is making a plan for what your correspondence will be. In fact, some campers don't know how to write letters anymore, how to address an envelope. Go through that process with them."

Also, considering sending something to comfort your child when homesickness arises, such as a soothing item or a toy from home or a happy place they can visit mentally when stressed. 

"One of the worst things to do," adds Ohl, "is actually to say that if they're not having a good time they can call and we'll come get you. If they know there's an out, they might not fully invest in the experience."

 

Fill your own time

Behind every successful camper is a successful camp parent, which you can become despite first-time jitters of sending your child far from home. 

"We post photos daily of the campers on our website," says Cheley Klebe. "Many first-year parents, they're there at 10 a.m. on their computers when we post pictures, searching the site for their child's foot or hand or face."

While such worry is normal, "one big thing is coaching the parents, making sure we tell them the planned activities so they structure their time away from their child as well," says Sullivan. "If the parent's time is not structured, they tend to worry too much and call us in excess."

 

Don't force it or judge

Summer camp has become a rite of passage, especially for American children, but above all, remember — and tell your child — that success at camp is not a requirement to become a successful adult, nor is not enjoying one camp experience a sign that your child never will. 

"There are some kids who are suited for camp and some that even at 15 just aren't suited for it. They might be extreme homebodies or just uninterested, and that's OK," says Cheley. "And if it doesn't work out that first year, it doesn't mean that they're not a 'camp kid.' "

Kate Jonuska: kate.jonuska@gmail.com or twitter.com/kjonuska

Is your child ready for camp? 

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, but you might not be experienced with the signs a kid is ready — or not quite ready — for an overnight summer-camp experience. 

Has your child spent time away from home? Sleepovers are a great start, but so are longer, multiday trips with grandparents, aunts or uncles, or trusted friends. Monitor how often your child contacts you for advice or comfort during this time away to gauge their comfort in being on their own.

How do they react to new experiences and people? Overnight camps in particular strive to broaden campers' horizons. Take a look at how your child handles meeting a new kid on the playground or trying a new and unfamiliar food. Adventurousness is a great sign they're ready, but so is reluctant acceptance that turns into a favorite new story. 

Do you have camp experience in the family? Parents who attended camp themselves are often more enthusiastic for their children and have less trouble trusting their kid will be in safe hands. Children can absorb their parents' anxiety about being away.

Is your child/family experiencing a transition? This could be a new school, moving, divorce, medical diagnosis or other significant change. If the home front is currently in upheaval, the time might not be right to spend a significant period away from family. 

By Kate Jonuska

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