Most kids start showing interest in sleepaway camps when they are between 7 and 9 years old. But every child is different. Here are some tips for how to decide when your kids are ready for an overnight camp, and how to prepare them for their first sleepaway camp experience.
Here’s our list to consider before making your decision.
- Does your child do well on sleepovers with friends or family? One of the first questions to ask yourself is if your child does well with regular sleepovers with friends or family. If your kid loves sleepovers and has no trouble with homesickness, then this is a sign that he/she might be ready for an overnight camp. There are also other major factors to consider before sending them off to camp, but this is one of the main considerations in your decision.
- Is your child’s friend or sibling going to an overnight camp? It might be easier for your child to go to an overnight camp is somebody they know – a friend or a sibling – is going to the same camp. This is especially helpful if their buddy has done overnight camp before and can tell your kid about their experiences and get him/her excited too.
- Are you ready to send them off? Another important thing to consider is if you are ready as a parent to send your child off to an overnight camp. You should not do it if you are going to be worried every minute of your day. If you have any hesitations or fears make sure to address them before making the decision to sign them up. You want to make sure YOU are ready as much as your kid is ready.
Kids revving to go to their first overnight camp? Read our tips on how to prepare them for the experience.
- Prepare your kid at home first. Similar to our suggestions for camping, it is best to prepare your child at home before sending them to camp. Run a test trial of camp at home in the comfort of your own living room. Have your kid sleep outside of his/her own bedroom (in any other room in the house) and in a sleeping bag to see how he/she does out of their comfort zone. Find out what issues your child is having and speak openly about them the next day.
- Find the right camp for your kid. Finding the right camp is crucial to your child’s first experience. You want to find a camp that caters to your child’s interests. In many areas, there are hundreds of camps for you to choose from. Do the right amount of research before signing your child up. You might want to stay local for the first camp so your child doesn’t feel too far from home and you can be there quickly if anything goes wrong. Check out this resource to help you find the right camp for your child: http://find.acacamps.org/.
- Start with a short camp first. Some camps offer an a one-night overnight option at the end of a regular summer camp week. That may be a great option if your kid is a bit hesitant about overnight camp. Otherwise, a week-long or 2-week long overnight camp will work. If you are a first-time parent trying this out with your first kid, try a one-week camp as a test trial. You can always sign them up for a longer camp in the future.
- Sign him/her up with a friend. A way to ease your child’s first-time camp anxiety is to sign them up with a buddy. If your kid has someone to turn to in camp, this will help with the homesick feeling. A friend might also help your child build the confidence to open up and enjoy the full camp experience knowing there is someone he/she can trust at their side.
- Get them involved in the preparation process (shopping, packing, etc.) Attitude is important! As a parent, you want to set the tone of excitement for camping so make sure to actively involve your child during the shopping and packing processes. Your child will get pumped up for the trip if he/she gets to pick which color toothbrush and which pair of new socks to bring on the trip.
- Share your camp stories. If you have had a great experience at camp, make sure to share these stories with your kids. This will get them excited about making their own memories at camp – and if they are a little nervous, reassure them that their parents “survived” the overnight camp just fine!
- Send them off with a little surprise. While you are finishing packing, sneak in a little surprise in their bag. Whether it’s their favorite stuffed animal or a picture or a cute note, it would be nice for them to open their bag to a little surprise.