It is that time of year again when the summer camp flyers start to arrive. As much as this might feel mind bending and hard to believe when there is still snow on the ground, if you are willing to dive in and get planning, success is much closer!
Children learn from a strong example set by their parents. One of the best things you can do to set up the summer camp experience is to begin sharing your favourite camp stories. I am talking about the true excitement and discovery that you experienced as a child at camp, not the dripping and manipulative guilt trip that kids pick up on in a nanosecond and will surely resist. Be sure to use details of all the positive aspects you can remember. The point is that you are setting the tone as a trustworthy influence; not that you attended the same camp in a similar situation. I can not stress enough that you be authentic.
Some children like to attend a camp of every kind, every week, cramming 10 weeks and some big money into an 8 week summer vacation. Other children dread the thought of any summer camp, regardless of the sell. Start by laying out the brochures in a common area of the house like the kitchen table. This will create the opportunity for conversation and questions about what really interests your child, and perhaps open a space to hear their reservations. The important part is to listen. What do they love about a particular activity or what specific experience they are looking for (if you are not hearing one, your job is to ask!)? These are places to leverage and build on as you move forward. Enrolling your child in a new activity is great for expanding their learning and life experience. However, if there is a week when you need a break and the only camp available is one your child does not resonate with, you are heading down a dark path.
Even the most seasoned summer camp child has an off week. Whether they are trying something new or have been enrolled many times before, you will need to make room for a Plan B. Summer camps are great but if your child is ill or not enjoying themselves, what are you going to do? Do not plan something you can not reschedule or, have a friend or family member as a back up for emergency pick up or care if you are not going to be available. Make sure that you communicate this Plan B to your child clearly. You would be surprised that just the knowing you have a plan for them to come home will actually keep them at camp. Before you actually pay for the camp, be sure to check the refund/cancellation policy. This step will save you time and money, and your child a lot of guilt if things do not go well.
The most popular camps fill quickly so if there is a known winner for your child, move fast. You may want to manage some expectations in case you are put on a waiting list and won’t find out if you are in or not until later in the summer. This is another place the Plan B will come in handy.
The majority of large facilities are required to undergo detailed staff checks, including Police checks, for anyone working with children. However, you have the right to ask for references from previous customers if you would like. This is when a great parent network is vital for checking the summer camp pulse. You can put out a request and have multiple responses in no time. If you are new to town and still creating your network, check out this Magazine for previous award winners or Child Friendly awards. If your summer camp facility is smaller, you may want to ask for personal references of the staff involved in delivering the camp.
A few days before the camp, go over the list of what is needed together. This creates buy in and shared responsibility for camp preparation. The sunscreen, bug spray, hat, water bottle and healthy snacks are a given. Are there other specifics related to the camp your child has chosen? Have everything set out in a backpack by the door the night before so there is no rushing around on the first morning of camp. If you have never been to the location, get directions off the internet or call the facility to verify where you are going. Be sure to leave more time than usual, at least 20 minutes, for dropping off on the first day. Generally, a waiver and other paperwork that must be filled out and with all the new campers that means a line up and some patience.]
Before you leave the camp, run through the list below to help calm anxieties:
- Walk your child to his/her leader and do an introduction. Having that face to face introduction with you to hold their hand (or hide behind) paves the way for a great relationship.
- Tell your child’s leader is this is their first time at camp or if they are feeling a bit nervous. That empowers the leader to encourage and include your child.
- Leave a ‘security blanket’ if needed (your cell phone number in his/her back pack, or a special stuffy).
- Tell your child who will be picking them up and at what time.
Summer camps are a fantastic way of your child learning a new skill or honing favourite ones. They learn self-confidence, increase trust and resiliency when you follow through on the pick up or Plan B, increase social skills and have the opportunity to make new friends with common interests. All experiences that set your child up for success in summer camps to follow and life beyond.