Before you send your child to overnight camp you should assure that he or she has a basic understanding of what is and what is not appropriate interaction between an adult (or teen) authority and a child. This education should have been be ongoing from at least age four or five.
A child who is absolutely dead set against the idea probably should not be sent away to camp. I’m not talking here about the child who wants to go but is nervous about the experience. We had one of those (the very same child who now lists camp as his top two extra-school educational experiences); they may need a little push to get to camp that first time!
Choosing and Planning for Summer Camp
Never send your child to a camp that is basically unknown to you. Your selection should be based on real recommendations (preferably personal) and a telephone or face-to-face discussion with the camp director, if not a visit to the facility. When it came to selecting a summer camp for our own children, the presence of a spiritual/moral context was also critically important to us.
The first time you send a child to camp, it is a good idea to have her to invite a friend to go along and be placed in the same overnight group throughout the week. (I do not recommend sending more than two together because this can completely disrupt the dynamic of the cabin or small group.) The two should be charged with watching out for one another. A companion, by her very presence, will serve as a layer of protection. Also, if something is not right the two can assess and address the situation together.
Any good summer camp administrator is very aware of the critical importance of child safety and makes every effort to ensure the cultivation of a staff and culture that will protect every child that sets foot on the premises. If your child wants to go away to camp, investigate carefully and select a camp that seems well suited to his needs and/or preferences. Then make personal contact, help your child select a reliable sibling or friend to attend him (at least for the first time to a new camp), and, if all signals are go, sign him up!
When It’s Time to Go to Camp
When it comes time to deliver your child to camp, be early so that she isn’t “late” in meeting her cabin mates. Attend her all the way to her sleeping quarters (or at least to her primary counsellor). You should be given opportunity to meet your child’s counsellor and to chat for a few minutes. Don’t overwhelm the counsellor with information – just touch on any critical points – detail should be given in writing. It is most important to establish rapport and then to step away and allow the counsellor to meet other children and parents. Help your child make his bed, if appropriate, and shortly give him a warm hug and a firm pat on the back. Then stride confidently out the door, leaving him to be his own person.
Few if any opportunities in life come without some risk. Summer camp, too, has its risks. The goal in choosing a summer camp is the same as in all of life: to minimize risk and maximize benefit. Summer camp most certainly offers your child many unique and empowering benefits — along with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime!