Making the Switch from Day Camp to Sleep-Away Camp
How to Help Your Child Make the Transition
Updated Aug. 30, 2009, 12:28 p.m.
The decision between day camp and overnight camp is always challenging, regardless of whether your child has attended day camp for several summers or has never before been to summer camp. Trusted overnight summer camps provide relief to parents, especially those who work, but anticipating weeks away from your child can also be an anxious experience. What factors should a parent consider?
At the outset, there are several issues which would deter a child from attending overnight camp. An inability to sleep in his own bed on a nightly basis or a constant problem with bed wetting or sleep walking indicates that your child is not ready to stay overnight. Also, has your child successfully spent a night or two away from the family unit prior to leaving for camp? It is often beneficial to try a practice run as a night away at a relative's house or a friend's house can be one of the best ways to gauge if your child will be able to adapt to an overnight camp.
In addition to these factors, it is important to determine the maturity level of your child. Perrin Tellock, a psychologist at the renowned Muraco Elementary School in Winchester, Massachusetts, provides several measures to judge your child's readiness for overnight camp.
Tellock states that the first factor is your child's level of adaptability. While outward behavior may suggest a child is mature and responsible, it is important to gauge whether this is true solely in familiar situations. For instance, a child might get his homework done and regularly complete his chores, but this may only be due to the comfort of a predictable routine. If the structure is removed, will he still maintain this level of maturity? Similarly, a child who may appear less responsible but thrives on change and powers through new social situations can be well-suited for sleep away camp as it constantly provides new adventures. Tellock suggests observing how your child interacts with new groups and warms up to strangers.
Tellock also calls attention to the "emotional resiliency factor." This is not pinned to a certain age, but rather your child's level of independence. If your child is more of a homebody it may make it difficult for him or her to be away from the family unit. In addition, if a new challenge or experience presents itself, does your child embrace the situation? This factor goes hand in hand with your child's level of adaptability and can help determine how ready he or she is to attend overnight camp.
While these issues are helpful in discerning your child's maturity level, the extent of his or her nervousness is also important to consider. It is common for a child to experience anxiety prior to leaving home for the first time; however, if you feel as though you are forcing the decision upon them it is a clear indication that they are not ready. Furthermore, it is not the appropriate time to transition to overnight camp if your child agrees only on the grounds that there will be a "rescue plan" in place.
Tellock also stresses the importance of determining the "overall family situation and [if there are] other stressors" which may hinder your child from adjusting to an overnight camp. Problems such as marital tension or an ill family member may lead a parent to believe that removing the child for a week or several weeks will be beneficial for him. However, it is important that a child feels secure in his family dynamic prior to leaving or his adjustment can be severely hindered.
If the decision seems daunting, it is important to keep in mind that camp directors and counselors know how to work with first-time overnight campers. Often, the first few days of camp are so booked with activities that your child might not even have time to reflect upon his new separation from home. Charles Hirsch, the camp director of Camp Hi-Rock, located in Mount Washington, Massachusetts finds that overnight camp, "provides greater opportunity to foster and build friendship." To assist first time overnight campers, Hirsch's counselors are specifically trained to work on an "individual specific basis". This includes structuring the camper's daily schedule to incorporate familiar activities which consequently put him at ease with his day. Most camps, Hi-Rock included, also group overnight campers in age appropriate bunks and allow for a bunk request if your child is attending camp with a friend.
Ultimately, only you and your child know if it is truly the right time to transition to overnight camp. However, by considering the mixture of personal factors as well as the structure and training of your child's camp and camp counselors you and your family can come to a well-informed and confident decision.