As usual for this time of year, we’ve been busy meeting with families who are interested in sending their children to Maine Arts Camp. Some of these have been brief interactions at camp fairs where we need to get the key messages across quickly, while the more meaningful ones have been with small groups of families or one-on-one in a family’s home.
Discussing and answering parents’ questions and concerns about overnight camp is an important part of what we do, and it’s always very gratifying. A common and important question we hear from parents who are new to the idea of sending their children away to camp is: “How do I know if my child is ready for sleepaway camp?”
From our experience we’ve seen that it could be at a different age for each child, even from the same family. It might happen at 8 years old, or maybe not till 11 or 12. A good start is if your child is asking to go away to camp, but this doesn’t always happen. If your child’s friends don’t go away to camp, it might never even occur to him to ask about it. If your child doesn’t bring it up and you’d like to explore the idea, go ahead and ask. If he or she is adamantly opposed to the idea, then it’s not the right time. However, if your child is at least willing to consider it, that might be the first sign that he or she is ready.
Here are some other questions to consider:
- Has my child successfully slept at a friend or relative’s home? If not, arrange a sleepover and see how it goes. It’s important for your child to know what it feels like to be away from his own home even briefly, before trying a couple weeks or more.
- Does my child get herself dressed and ready each morning without much help, and then again at bedtime? If you’re constantly reminding her to do things like brush her teeth or shower, you need to encourage her to take more responsibility with personal hygiene. If it takes your child an unusually long time to shower or get dressed, practice speeding up on these skills before camp and forewarn the camp directors about this issue. Parents have told us that going to camp has been a great incentive for their children to improve some of these skills. As part of a community campers learn to cooperate so they don’t keep groups of people waiting.
Maine Arts Camp is small and nurturing, so our counselors make sure campers are taking care of daily needs, but the more independent children are, the better they feel about themselves. A mother once told us that she has to brush her 11 year old daughter’s hair every day because it’s very long and curly. She asked if a counselor can do this for her. I told her that a counselor can check to see that she’s brushing her hair and help her if she needs it. It’s common for young girls to need help getting those tangles out once in a while. However, I asked this mother to help her daughter learn how to brush her own hair before camp to assure a successful experience.
- Does my child know how to make his bed and clean up his room? This will be expected at camp, so it’s time to work on this if it’s an issue. Most camps have room or cabin inspections, and it is not an option to have a messy space. Many of our parents tell us their children are much better at cleaning up after themselves after camp. More proof of how being a part of a camp community has a positive effect on a child’s behavior!
- How does my child do in social situations? While many children are shy, especially when they are in a new environment, it’s important for a child or teen to have basic social skills before going to camp. Most parents find that their child’s social skills blossom at camp, and they make a number of close friends. With the help of a caring staff, camp can be a great place for kids to learn to accept everyone for who they are, and to steer clear of negative behaviors like bullying and cliques. If your child is actively working on specific strategies to improve social skills, be sure to discuss these with the camp director. We have found this kind of input to be extremely helpful to us.
If your child wants to go to overnight camp, and you’re the one who isn’t ready, try to be open minded and gather information to understand the idea better. We find that parents who did not grow up going to camp sometimes have a harder time with this at first, but they often become our biggest proponents after they see the wonderful effects camp has on their child.
If you’re still wondering if your child is ready for overnight camp, please give us a call: (561) 865-4330. We’d be happy to talk to you on the phone about it, or try to arrange to meet with you. We can also put you in touch with other families who can share their own experiences to help you envision your child enjoying the magic of camp!
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