Is My Child Ready to Go to Overnight Camp?

Any parent who contemplates sending their son or daughter to overnight camp asks themselves this question. From birth, we (I am the parent of two boys, ages 7 and 4, see them at their most reliant, and despite our best intentions, we often hold them in time, doing for them as we always have done. Since we continue to do things for them that they can likely do for themselves, we, and they, miss the opportunity to see how they can rely upon themselves in new ways.
Instead of blaming ourselves, let’s send them to camp! So how do we know they are ready? I often ask families if a potential camper has slept away from home in the past, and if that was an overall successful experience. None of our first-time campers have spent two weeks away from home before, but if they have slept at a relative’s or friend’s house, it’s a good indicator of ability to transition and relax in new settings.
Some families are concerned about picky eaters…again, I have two myself. Food at camp is plentiful, varied, tastes good and appeals to the adolescent and teen set. If campers enjoy eating, for the most part, they will have no problem at camp, and we accommodate for allergies, intolerances, etc. Also, they get to make choices for themselves. If they are active, sleeping well and participating, we do not insist they eat certain amounts of any type of food, and while we limit dessert, they help themselves to what looks good to them.
Recently, a parent said to me, ‘she can’t even put her backpack together for school, how can she organize for a camp day?’. That’s the beauty of camp, and where we allow campers to shine. Our staff does not rely on cues the same way we (understandably) impatient parents do. We are all standing by the front door each morning with a familiar refrain that goes something like this:
‘Where are your shoes? Did you remember your library book? Don’t forget your water bottle…do you have gym today?’…and so on.
At camp, we can take the time to ask a simple question – “What will we need for the waterfront today?” And thus, camper independence and responsibility switches on. Our campers can think for themselves what they might need and how to gather it. It isn’t always 100% effective, but they see that they can do for themselves, and the confidence born is in infectious.
There isn’t a checklist to demonstrate readiness at camp, but often the readiness is when we are ready to let them go. ☺