Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time to Make Summer Camp Plans

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As I child, I started annually attending summer camps by the time I was eight. Most summers, I attended at least two camps or sessions.

Whether I took a friend or not, didn’t matter to me. Camp was fun.

For my daughter, Addy, it was different. She had no desire to go. I decided to take a relaxed approach: “When she is ready, she’ll ask.”

Last year, at the age of 12, ready she was. And so we began searching for the ideal place. We looked in Oklahoma and surrounding states and found many good options—some expensive and some more moderately priced. Because we had started late, however, most camps were full. As my own plans started to evolve for the summer, I realized how convenient it would be for me, if we could find a camp in the state I call home. I suggested we check out one of the camps I regularly attended. We did. They had space. The price was more than reasonable. The deal was made.

Although very comfortable with the choice, I must confess I fretted some. Last year while visiting a good friend, her child wrote heart-wrenching letters about wanting and needing to come home. My friend made her stick it out, but not without tears of her own. But fear of the unknown or how it will all work out is never a good reason to not try something. My friend’s child learned an important lesson that summer. She learned how to deal with a challenging situation.

If your child has yet to experience camp, you might want to reconsider. The majority of children, mine included, have wonderful camp experiences. A study done by the American Camp Association surveyed more than 5000 families who had attended 80 ACA-Accredited camps to evaluate the experience from the perspective of parents and children. In most cases, the parents and children reported significant growth in: self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, adventure and exploration, environmental awareness, values and spirituality.

After hearing all the “camp” tales from my daughter post trip, I would have to report that it was all good! She can’t wait return. Never mind that she caught the flu (not the Swine flu) and had to leave camp a day early.

There are other reasons to consider sending your child to camp. According to Dr. Bruce Muchnick, a licensed psychologist who works extensively with day and resident campers, “Camp is a learning experience.” Dr. Muchnick explains that being in a new environment and away from the familiar “provides an opportunity for your child to explore a world bigger than his/her neighborhood and a chance for you and your child to practice ‘letting go.’” He claims that “letting go” is important to develop autonomy and a strong sense of self.

The American Camp Association ( offered more advice:

1. Make Joint Decisions: Include your child in the selection process. Ask your child to pack with your help.

2. Talk Openly About Fears and Concerns: Being afraid to be away from home is common, especially if it is the first camp experience. Share your “first-time-from-home” experiences with your camper. Talk to them about what they can do when and if they feel sad or lonely.

3. Help Them Have Realistic Expectations: Explain to your child the real purpose of camp, which is to relax, have fun and enjoy. It’s not about winning the biggest trophy or prize or succeeding. Talk about a typical day of activities that will include fun activities, but also some chores like making a bed or keeping your bunk tidy.

If your child has never attended camp, you could always select camps with shorter durations. Addy’s camp last year ran for one week.

Best Hint: When trying to figure out how to pack Addy’s camp supplies and clothes, I asked a friend if she had a trunk I could borrow. She told me, “Don’t do that. Instead, purchase a plastic chest of drawers. When transporting, tape the drawers shut.” This solution was ideal and made all of Addy’s key items easy to reach. You might want to check with the camp staff before making this decision.

Allyn Evans