Tips for first time campers and their parents

Melissa Erikson

Sleep-away camp is a big deal for both campers and their parents, and it often brings feelings of excitement and anxiety. Is your child ready for it?

“One way to gauge a child’s readiness for overnight camp is if the child has had successful overnight experiences away from home, at a friend’s or relative’s,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association. “Beyond those experiences, parents should involve their child in the search and preparation process. Reach out to the camp director and ask questions. If possible, tour prospective camps in person prior to choosing.”

Missing home is normal

“Homesickness is not a sickness. It’s normal for kids to miss home. Kids can have the most wonderful time at camp and still feel homesick,” said Corey Dockswell, director of Camp Wicosuta, a traditional four-week sleep-away camp for girls in Hebron, New Hampshire. What’s most important is to take your cues from your child, Dockswell said. “If they’re excited about camp, talk about what fun they’re going to have. Don’t put negative thoughts in their head,” she said.

What to look forward to

“The best thing is for families to stay positive,” said Jared Shapiro, director of Camp Winadu, a boys summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains. “Talk about all the friends they’re going to make, all the fun activities they’re going to do. What’s unknown is what often makes kids nervous, so discuss what they should expect.”

“Parents should discuss the info they’ve gathered in the search process,” Rosenberg said. “Discuss the answers that camp directors have given the family. Check out the camp’s website as a family and look at packing lists, maps of the camp, photos from last summer.”

No pick-up deals

Avoid any suggestions that you will pick up your camper if he feels homesick or unhappy, all experts agreed.

“This conveys a message of doubt and pity that undermines children’s confidence and independence,” Rosenberg said. “The camp director and camp staff are your partners. If your child is homesick, feel free to call the camp and discuss ways in which you can work together to solve the problem.”