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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.

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, based upon our experience and recommendations from the American Camp Association and other experts.

1) Your child can take care of his/her personal hygiene.

Young children may need their counselors to remind 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, and showering on their own is one of the ACA’s key indicators they are mature enough to handle an overnight camp.

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. If they are asking to go, says the ACA, then that’s a sign they’re ready.

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.

This will likely not prevent homesickness, but it opens the door for you to discuss it with your child.

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.

“Separation from Mom and Dad is “…the primary key psychological and emotional benefit for children and parents going to sleepaway camp” Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist and author in Beverly Hills, CA, explained in Medical Daily. Knowing they are comfortable being separated from you at home means they can transition to being cared for by their counselors at camp.

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 can separate from his or her electronic device in order to engage with others socially

Many parents long for the days when children’s phones were not connected like glue to their hands and most of us wish we could do a better job of limiting the amount of time our children are connected to a device playing games, scrolling social media, binge-watching TV, or watching videos on Youtube that make no sense to us but they find incredibly entertaining. Camp cuts the electronic cord and your child will be device-free while they attend. For many children this idea is scary, but for a small number, it is absolutely terrifying and anxiety-inducing.  The good news is that most campers quickly adapt and, in fact, don’t miss their devices once they are engaged at camp.  There is so much socialization at camp, that children are actually getting in real time the connection and entertainment they try to obtain on electronics. Without having screens by their side, kids at camp actually sit next to each other during meals and talk face to face, and make eye contact with each other.

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 together. 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!

Resources we recommend to help you decide whether your child is ready for sleepaway camp:

“What’s the best age for camp?”, American Camp Association

“When is a child ready for overnight camp?”, The Washington Post

Getting your child ready for camp,” PBSparents

How summer camp helps develop your child’s mental health and resilience,” Medical Daily