Is my child ready for sleep-away camp? Maybe, with a loving push

| April 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

CAMPER Teva Corwin in Yosemite.

The world has changed very quickly within the span of a few weeks, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but as I sit here sequestered in my home, typing away on my computer, I am living with the knowledge and hope that someday (sooner than later, please?) our children will return to their school campuses, restaurants will fill to capacity, movie theaters will be a favored “Friday night on-the-town,” and our children will once again be able to experience the joy of leaving home for a week or month during the summer to go to their favorite sleep-away camps.

Some children are born to go to summer camp, while others need a little push from mom and dad. But how do you actually know if your child is ready for sleep-away camp?

“The most important thing to know is that this answer is different for every child,” says Allie Simon, who graduated from Santa Clara University with a bachelor of science in early childhood education and Spanish, serves as a camp supervisor developing teen programs for summer camps, and currently teaches at the Plymouth School. “Some children might be asking to go to sleep-away camp with friends, while others need to be encouraged.”

Basic questions

CAMP SUPERVISOR Allie Simon (far right) with friends.

Since every child is different, Simon encourages parents to ask a few basic questions about their child when considering sleeping away from home for an extended period of time. “Is your child able to practice basic self-hygiene? Make sure your child knows how to brush teeth, take a shower [and] pick out outfits,” Simon advises.

Simon also questions whether the children can handle sleepovers closer to home.

“Are they able to have successful sleepovers with friends or family members? At camp they will have a different routine from normal. Practicing sleepovers can be a fun exciting way for a child to experience a different routine.”

Zoe Corwin, a Windsor Square parent of two children, Teva and Jesse, remembers how she first decided on a camp that would be best for her older child, Teva.

“We learned about Camp Tawonga through a Jewish summer camp fair at Temple Israel of Hollywood,” says Corwin. “We talked to several people we knew who had sent their children to the same camp. That was really important — to hear about the camp ethos from former campers. It was also helpful to talk to former campers who knew Teva — because they could weigh in as to whether it was a good fit for her.”

A day camp

One good way to figure out which type of sleep-away camp your child will enjoy is to send the child to a day camp first.

“Day camps are a great way to find the type of environment your child might be successful in,” says Simon. For example, she says a child could sample a specialty camp or experience a camp that has all the classic activities offered.”

Many camps offer tours so that you and your child can get a sense of the physical space before committing to weeks away from home.

“Some camps even offer family camps prior to the summer session,” reveals Simon. “This is the perfect opportunity for your children to sleep in the spaces where they will be spending the summer, with the comfort of you being there with them. By the time they are ready to go themselves, they will feel confident in the physical space.”

Sending a child away to sleep-away camp for the first time can be just as scary for the parent as it is for the child. But it’s the parents’ job to reassure the child that everything will be fine.

“Instead of saying things like, ‘We are going to miss you so much, we won’t know what to do without you!’ try saying, ‘We will miss you very much but we know you are going to have so much fun!’” recommends Simon.

Corwin remembers vividly the nerves she felt the first time she sent her daughter, Teva, to camp.

“She was excited until about a week prior to heading to camp,” recalls Corwin. “Then she grew very nervous. When I finally dropped her off at the buses, she was sobbing. I still can’t shake the image of her little face in the bus window, mouthing, ‘Mom!’ with tears streaming down her cheeks. About a week into camp, I received a call to let me know that she had been crying herself to sleep at night, but that they had checked in with her, and she said missing home wasn’t affecting her ability to have fun during the day. Cut to when I picked her up three weeks later. More tears. This time, because she didn’t want to leave her new friends!”

Many camps don’t allow electronic devices, so keeping in touch with your child may be a challenge. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Set expectations for how you will communicate with your child,” recommends Simon.

“The best way to keep in touch is often a simple letter. So, get them excited about writing letters! Print out pictures of their pets and let them know what is going on at home. Be prepared for your child to have so much fun as to forget to write to you!”

Corwin agrees.

“Both of my children came back from camp with newfound independence and a stronger sense of self… They tell us about how liberating it is to be away from their phones and to spend hours and hours outdoors.”

For more information on this subject, Simon recommends the book “Homesick and Happy,” by Michael Thompson, PhD. The psychologist covers the idea that time away from parents helps to create more resilient and confident children.

“The main findings from the book are that summer camps provide opportunities for children to develop skills like self-esteem, independence, character and happiness,” says Simon. “This is a fantastic resource for parents who are anxious about sending their children away to camp.”

Corwin’s first-hand parental experience seems to prove the point.

“There’s something so empowering for young people to be free from their parents, technology, city noise and buzz — and to simply goof around with kids their own age and connect with the great outdoors.”

And as for Teva?

“She went back every year until she ‘aged’ out.”

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