7 Telltale Signs Your Child is Ready for Sleepaway Camp
Knowing when your child is ready for sleepaway camp isn’t as simple as hitting a certain age. You probably already have a sense of this based on sleepovers alone. Some children are ready to pack their bag and spend the night away from home at an early age, others might decline the invitation long past the time you think they’re old enough. It’s the same with camp. Most of our campers start when they are 8 or 9 years old, but we’ve also seen some mature 6- and 7-year-olds who are eager to bunk with new friends, as well as some 11- or 12-year-olds who just aren’t ready yet.
In fact, you might not be ready to spend a summer away from your child. To help you make the decision, here are the telltale signs that your child will do just fine (and likely thrive and have the time of their life) at camp:
1) Your child can take care of his/her personal hygiene. Young children may need their counselors to reminders them to brush their teeth and take showers, but it’s important that they know how to do this on their own. Camp teaches a lot about independence, but there are some basic building blocks that children must already possess.
2) Your child is pushing you to go away to camp. Sometimes there is no guesswork involved. Often kids simply know that they have outgrown their day camp and are ready for a different adventure. Of course, there are some children who will need the push from their parents to consider sleepaway camp, which is also perfectly normal. What’s important is how your child reacts to the suggestion. Are they excited and/or intrigued by this adventure, or terrified of leaving home?
3) Your child has had successful sleepovers away from home. These can be sleepovers at a friend’s house, a grandparent’s or another relative’s house, but the key is that it is at someone else’s home. When the sleepover is over, debrief with your child and the caregiver to determine how positive the experience was. Did your child enjoy it? Were they able to sleep? Did he/she show signs of high anxiety or any regressive behavior? If it went off without a hitch, not just once but a couple of times, you know your child can sleep away from home.
4) Your child has experience with babysitters at night who can successfully put him or her to bed. If no one besides you or a close relative has ever put them to bed, your child probably won’t appreciate experiencing this for the first time at sleepaway camp. Bedtime is the time of day that is often most stressful to children who are away from home, as they associate sleep with the bedtime routines they have with their own parents. It’s much easier for a child to make the transition if they’re ok with new people taking care of them.
5) Your child can successfully navigate new situations. If your child has been able to adapt to new teachers or coaches, a classroom that is filled with unfamiliar kids, new after-school activities or a move to a new school, these are all indications that he or she can easily get into the groove of camp.
6) Your child is interested in trying and learning new things. We are all creatures of habit, but camp is filled with opportunities to make new friends and try new things. If your child goes into a new activity with an open mind or enters a new friendship with excitement (rather than dread), it’s a good sign your child is ready to spend a summer at camp.
7) Your child knows what sleepaway camp means. Camp, of course, is much more than one long sleepover. Along with the s’mores and shaving cream fights, there will be times children need to solve a problem on their own (or with the help of a counselor) or try something daunting—like spending weeks without a screen! Once they understand how camp works, let them have a say in the one you choose. Do not abdicate this responsibility to your child, of course, but allow them to feel part of the process. Watch videos, take a virtual tour, talk to the directors. The more they know going in, and the more invested they are in the decision-making process, the easier it will be to say goodbye for a few weeks—for you and for them!