Mistake No. 1 > Sending Kids Away Too Soon — Or Too Late
If you’re considering sleep-away, most first-timers start around third or fourth grade, says Bette Bussel, head of the American Camp Association, New England. Your child might be ready earlier or later. Ask yourself: Is she comfortable being dropped off at new places? Sleeping over at a friend’s house without issues? Able to self-groom? A camp director can help weigh in. However, do think twice about waiting too long. It may be harder for an older camper to break into the mix.
Mistake No. 2 > Following the Leader
This might be the one instance where relying on a fellow parent’s recommendation can be a detriment. Everyone else on your street may rave about that sports camp, but your kid is a budding artist. “You’ve got to take your child into consideration,” says Bussel. That means not only his unique interests, but also the camp’s underlying philosophy. Some kids thrive on the competitive spirit of color war, while others may prefer a more Kumbaya experience. And be sure to ask your child for his input.
Mistake No. 3 > Pairing Them Up With a Friend
Don’t be afraid for your child to go it alone, advises Laurie Kaiden of the Maine Camp Experience, a consortium of 33 Maine sleep-away camps. While going with a school buddy or cousin may ease your child’s initial comfort level, it takes away her ability to gain confidence and make a fresh start. “It may be scary to send your kid to a camp where they don’t know anyone, but in the long run, it’s best,” she says. “Meeting new friends from different places is part of the camp experience.”
Mistake No. 4 > Thinking Short-Term
While a trial run of a weekend or weeklong session may sound appealing for your first-timer, consider the session length you’ll ultimately want. Some camps only offer a seven-week option, where everyone arrives and leaves together, while others host two- or three-week sessions, allowing for family vacation time. “Think longer term than that first summer, think of attending for several years,” says Kaiden. “The benefits of camp accrue over time.”
Mistake No. 5 > Shirking Your Research
Picking a camp is practically like conducting a college search: You have to do your homework, quiz references, and even tour the grounds. You should also be grilling the director on these basics: Is your camp licensed and accredited? How do you screen staff? What’s your retention rate and camper-staff ratio? For sleep-aways: How do you deal with homesickness? What are the medical facilities? Do you allow electronics, phone calls, packages? Do you post pictures of campers for parents to view? “Camp is not just a wake-up-and-book-it kind of decision,” says Kaiden. “It’s a year-round planning cycle.”
Melissa Schorr is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.