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Ready for Sleep-Away Camp?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Development & Learning

The prospect of a no-kids week in the summer might have you hurrying to find a sleep-away slot for your child. Or your child might already be part of a Scout troop or other group that includes a summer sleep-away camping opportunity. Maybe the family of your child’s best friend has offered to include him in their vacation this year.

But you hesitate. How can you tell if your child is ready?

A quick rule-of-thumb is age. A week away from home is often too much to manage for kids younger than nine, unless the excursion is with a grandparent or someone else that’s family or as-good-as-family. Nine-year-olds have enough experience under their belts to adapt to most situations and they understand their own feelings well enough to soothe the inevitable homesickness. They have a good command of time and can tell “how long there is left to go” before the vacation comes to an end.

A second consideration is experience: has your child slept over at a friend’s house without problems? Is your child able to handle her affairs without her parents around, can she adapt to another set of rules and customs, and can she sleep in a strange bed without tears? A child who has never slept over at the home of a friend might find sleep-away camp too big a leap this summer.

Third, is the camp you’re thinking of a good fit for your child? If your kid is a bold adventurer eager for a challenge, he might love to rough it in the wilderness. But if your child likes his creature-comforts, enrolling him in a rugged experience “for his own good” is unlikely to make him a happy camper. There is a wide range of camps, suiting kids of every taste. And every camp – even one that seemingly presents little challenge – will stretch your child and teach him new things. Try to find a camp that will make your child happy.

Fourth, does your child want to go? If your child is dead-set against sleep-away camp then there is little to be accomplished by forcing her to go. Of course, as soon as you sign up your child, she will experience “buyer’s remorse.” Cold feet are to be expected and usually are not a reason to withdraw. But if sleep-away camp is the last thing your child wants this summer, then see what other options are open that she’ll find more acceptable.

Finally, are you ready? Can you be happy without knowing what your child is doing every minute of the day? Can you survive without knowing if he’s eating well or sleeping well and if the other kids are being nice to him? It goes without saying that you’ll choose a camp wisely. A good camp that’s well supervised and fun can create wonderful memories and a wish to return next year. But the other secret to a great camp experience is the readiness of the child and his parents. Sleep-away camp is a big step, a rite of passage.

If both of you are ready, then sleep-away camp can be a summer treat for the whole family.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.