Article by: Kimberley Fowler, with files from Lisa Van de Ven, Sharon Aschaiek and Annette Bourdeau for OurKids.net, Canada’s trusted source for camps and schools.
Whether the idea of your child going away to an overnight summer camp for a week excites you or makes you nervous you’ll want to consider whether they are ready and what the real benefits of an overnight camp are for young children.
There is simply no right age for a child to attend overnight camp. You can find programs out there for children as young as four. Every child is different and some may be emotionally ready to attend camp earlier than others. Answering the following questions will help you decide if your child is ready for overnight camp:
- Is your child comfortable attending sleepovers?
- Can your child wash and dress independently, and keep track of his or her belongings?
- Does your child have a friend or relative attending the camp during the same session?
- Is your child flexible about new routines, like coping with mealtime away from home or being exposed to unfamiliar food?
- Whose idea is it to go to camp?
The following situations are a sign that your child may not be ready for an overnight camp:
- If your child is emotionally insecure or if major changes are underway at home.
- If your child has difficulty sleeping through the night, it’s likely best to wait until a regular sleep pattern is well established.
- If your child wets the bed, explain that he or she is not alone and that most camps offer help, support and discreet handling of this issue, then speak with the camp director.
The Benefits of Overnight Camp
Learning to work together in groups and on teams to solve a problem or achieve a common goal is at the core of any educational curriculum, and is also at the heart of camp programming.
Licensed psychologist Mary Polychronas has spent 20 years working with teachers and students in the private and public school sectors, and is a staff psychologist at Weston School, a combined elementary and secondary school in Montreal.
Polychronas believes that children clearly have different needs at various points in their development. The toddler years are a time of rapid growth and exploration, but she thinks the critical years for the best-quality learning environment start in Kindergarten and continue through primary school. “I find those years are crucial. This is when children are developing their learning styles and learning habits”. Polychronas goes on to say that the more outings and extracurricular activities you can get a toddler involved in the better. These experiences, like the ones provided through camp, provide more chances for young learners to explore the world around them.
Jeff Bradshaw, former president of the Canadian Camping Association, believes in the importance of the social skills learned at overnight camp. “Each day is full of activities that require co-operation, such as crewing a sailboat, paddling a canoe, building a campfire or pitching a tent. Children learn to share living space, a bag of marshmallows and their counselor’s attention. They learn skills that lead to tolerating differences, reaching consensus and celebrating achievements.”
In 2005, the University of Toronto conducted a study on overnight summer camps, which confirms these social benefits and cites others, including an improved self-image, appreciation of socio-cultural diversity and increased respect for the environment.
There is certainly no question that if your child is ready, overnight camp can provide life-long social skills that will help them now and in years to come.
Explore the choices and discover just how amazing the benefits of camp can be for your child at www.ourkids.net/camp!
Get more great tips from our friends at Our Kids Net by checking out their previous article on Mums ‘n Chums: Key Steps to Choosing a Camp