Each summer, more than 11 million children and adults attend a summer camp of some type, according to the American Camp Association, and attendance is on the rise.
While e-mail and high-tech camping gear have changed a few aspects of the camp experience, preparing kids for camp still requires some basic provisions.
“Camps are an important way to keep your kids physically active and fit. They help improve athletic skills and often stimulate interest in new activities,” says Ari Brown, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics who explains that the first step in preparing your child for camp is to get a checkup.
“Take those camp physical forms seriously. Your child needs a physical examination before participating, particularly if it is a sports camp. The camp doctor or nurse relies on accurate information to make medical decisions when a parent isn’t around to help,” Brown says.
Making sure your child is physically prepared is only half the job. “From a psychological standpoint, camps foster independence and social interactions,” Brown explains. But new experiences and new environments can be overwhelming.
Kids will be best prepared for a camp adventure if they are involved in choosing the camp. “If they help do the research and make the decision, they will ultimately be happier with their choice than if the parent picks the camp based on their own rationale,” Brown says.
Parents can help prepare their child only if they are prepared themselves. “Check to see if the camp has implemented enough safety guidelines, especially if water activities are involved,” says Brown, who encourages parents to check camp accreditation. “Make sure the camp is prepared to handle medical emergencies. Ask if there is a nurse or doctor on site at all times and where campers are sent for medical care if something more serious happens,” says Brown. He recommends talking to camp administrators frankly about any concerns you may have.
Being confident about the camp your child attends will ease the anxiety and help prepare you both for a confident goodbye. As you gather your list of camp supplies, take some time to prepare your child for camp in these three ways:
Fitness: Help kids build up endurance
“Parents can start by getting their kids in shape physically,” Brown says. Hiking, swimming and team games can be exhausting to a child who is used to sitting at a school desk or in front of the television for several hours a day.
Take regular walks, bike rides and hikes several weeks before camp starts to get your child ready for the physical demands of camp. Encourage kids to play outside. Get them out of the air conditioning and acclimated to the hot weather and bugs before sending them away for a week in the woods.
Facts: Talk about camp expectations
Detailed conversations about camp routines, events and even feelings are essential before camp begins. “Be enthusiastic about what to expect at camp but also be realistic. Tell them that they might prefer to be at home some days, but that it will be a fun time overall,” Brown says.
Discuss different situations with your child, such as rain, boredom, homesickness and hunger. Prepare by packing extra snacks, fun pads, family photos and stamped postcards as a backup for these worst-case scenarios.
Friends: Find a buddy before camp starts
“Especially for the first time at overnight camp, kids do better when they know at least one cabin-mate,” Brown says. Attending camp with a buddy helps ease the stress of the experience. “It always helps to have a friend with you,” Brown says.
If your child does not have a friend attending, ask the camp for names of other registered campers in your child’s session who live nearby. Arranging a lunch meeting or phone call before camp can help both parties break the ice.
As a last resort, have your child connect with one of the camp counselors by e-mail or phone before the session starts.
This story originally appeared in the April 2010 edition of Metroparent Magazine.