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The Benefits of Summer Camp

There are many positive benefits to sending your child to summer camp. “Camp is a safe place for outdoor exploration, active play, and embarking on great adventures,” notes the Alberta Camping Association (ACA) website.

The Canadian Camping Association (CCA) website says during camp, “participants are encouraged to be cooperative, caring, tolerant, and respectful - qualities which benefit kids beyond camp. They also learn to become more independent and self-confident; they develop leadership skills and acquire an appreciation and respect for nature.

There are a number of other benefits of camp that may not be top of mind. Here are my top five unexpected benefits of sending your child to overnight camp:

1. Autonomy.
For many kids, overnight camp is their first experience spending any significant amount of time away from home. When your child is able to successfully spend time away from home at camp, it can help them develop autonomy. Independence is good for your child because they can prove to themselves that they can do things they may not have thought they could do or that they otherwise wouldn’t try to do in a familiar setting.

2. Exposure to new kids. Camp attracts kids from different schools, ages, races, religious backgrounds, and sometimes other cities, too; kids your child may not normally get the opportunity to meet and get to know. Camp is a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn about cultural diversity and enhance their natural curiosity about others.

3. They can be themselves. The fact that your child doesn’t know many or all of the other kids at camp can be a huge benefit to them because your child doesn’t have to pretend to be anything they are not. At school, there is often pressure to ‘fit in’ and act a certain way but at camp, your child can just be themselves.

4. Learn new life skills. When you send your child to camp, you anticipate your child will learn some new skills like kayaking, playing a new sport, learning how to start a camp fire, etc. But what you may not realize is your child is also learning increased self-reliance that comes with being supervised by camp counsellors instead of a parent. Your child will learn new life skills like setting and clearing dishes from the dining hall, neatly making their bunk bed, and keeping their living area or shared quarters clean and tidy.

5. Create connections. When your kid returns home from camp, they will be excited to share with you - for months or even years to come - their camp stories, including the ‘hilarious thing Johnny did at camp.’ Your child may ask if Johnny can become their new Facebook friend or if you can text Johnny’s parent and see if he can come over for a playdate or sleepover (when things return to normal). Meeting people they wouldn’t otherwise meet can lead to lifelong friendships and memories.

What to expect

Your child needs to have some basic abilities before they are ready to go to overnight camp. Ask yourself these questions: ‘Can they handle being away from me for this long? Can they keep track of their belongings? Can they clean up after themselves? Can they swim? Can they handle sleepovers at grandma’s or a friend’s house?’ If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, your child is probably ready to go to overnight camp. If you have answered no to any of these questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t go to camp, just maybe not an overnight one quite yet.

The best way to prepare your child for camp is to let them know what to expect beforehand. As the ACA suggests, “Preparing for camp at home will help prevent homesickness and ensure a successful summer camp experience.”

Here are some more ACA tips for preparing your child for camp:

  • Involve your child in the process of selecting the camp. This will help them feel like it was their choice to be there.

  • Tell your camper what they should expect. For information on what a regular day at a particular camp looks like, contact the camp director.

  • Learn about the camp with your child. If possible, visit the camp so they know what it looks like. Look at the camp’s website with your child; view activities, photos, and facilities.

  • When normal life returns, arrange for your child to spend a night or two at a friend’s house so they know how it feels to be away from home and having fun. Pretend that they are off to camp. They need to pack their own bag and only call/text home if there is an emergency. As the ‘camp’ parent, you could tuck an encouraging letter into their bag. 

  • For younger campers, pretend they are at camp and need to make their bed, pick up and put away their clothes, brush their teeth, wash and comb their hair.

  • Talk to your child about homesickness. Do not promise your camper that they can phone to be picked up anytime they want. Instead, encourage your camper to see this week as a challenge, and remind them that you will be very proud of them for making it through the week. Reassure them that homesickness is normal but communicate your confidence in them and their ability to be away from home without you.

  • Do not schedule any special outings while your child is away, or they might feel like they’re missing out.

  • Let them know their camp counsellor(s) will make sure they’re safe and cared for.

  • Encourage your camper to express what it is that makes them nervous about camp. Be open to answering any questions they may have.

  • Get excited with your camper and help them prepare for camp. Mark the camp dates on your calendar and talk about it often.

How to choose?

Some camps keep your child entertained for a few hours a day while you are working, while other camps are specialized and help children learn everything from coding to competitive gymnastics. You want to find the right balance between choosing something your child is interested in and allowing them to try new skills. “Summer camp is about providing unique and specialized opportunities to children. Camp is a special treat, like having a sleepover or an extra dessert!” says Devon Karchut, TimberNook of Greater Calgary.

Another important consideration is whether you want to send your child to day camp or overnight camp. It can be difficult to know if your child is old enough for camp, but here is a rough guideline: Children as young as six can go to day camps and those eight years old and older might be ready for overnight camp trips. Of course, you know your child best and can always assess whether they (or you) are ready to take the next step from day to overnight camp. “While every child is different, it’s important to choose a camp that will meet their specific social, emotional, and physical needs,” advises the ACA website.

With hundreds of camps ranging from day camps, residential, and out-trip camps focusing on activities like horseback riding, canoeing, mountaineering, art, drama, and science, there is a lot to choose from, so do your search together and ask your child to make the choice based on their interests and talents.

Other things to consider

Cost. Camps that specialize in certain topics and bring in experts on those topics to teach the kids are a bit more expensive than camps that are mostly meant to entertain the kids for a day.

Food. Is lunch provided or do you need to send your kid to camp with a packed lunch? Or do you need to send them to camp with money for lunch? This consideration may seem like a small detail, but logistics are important.

Before- and after-care. Many camps offer before- and after-care as some don’t start until 9am or later and/or are over by 3pm, making it impossible for some parents to drop off and pick up their child before and after work.

Location. Where is the camp located? Can you easily get there to drop them off before work?

Days of the week. Do the days the camp is running work for your schedule?

Multiple children. If you have more than one child, can they all go to camp at the same location at the same time? If not, you are in for a lot of driving and more complicated pick-up and drop-off scheduling.

Getting started

Wondering how to get started on booking a camp for your child?

  • Start with a general search online. Browse camps.ca and the websites of the CCA, ccamping.org, and ACA, albertacamping.com, to learn about camps in your neck of the woods.

  • Continue your research by visiting each individual camp’s website. Learn about the camp’s philosophy, type of programs offered, session lengths, start dates, and cost.

  • Ask your friends, family, neighbors about their camping experience or view a camp’s testimonials online.

  • Research prospective camps early. Most camps have application deadlines, and popular camps can fill up quickly.

  • And last but certainly not least, check out the 2021 Calgary's Child Magazine Summer Camp & Program Guide; a comprehensive list of camps offered at home or in person in Calgary and area. 

Stacie is a freelance writer, editor, and mother to a delightful daughter and silly son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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