Parenting: How to Help Kids Have a Great Summer at Camp

For generations of American children, summer camp has been a familiar rite of passage. They would get some exercise, maybe learn a new skill, and hopefully make some new friendships before the lazy days of summer were over. Whatever the orientation of the camp, the children could mainly count on a predictable ritual of sunny days and nights around the campfire.

But the pandemic-disrupted summers of 2020 and 2021 have upended the camping experience, like most other aspects of American life. Some camps have closed, while others have attempted to house children and adopted security measures. For many parents of children too young to get vaccinated, camp was simply not an option.

So this year, many families may be trying a “normal” they haven’t tried since 2019 – or haven’t tried at all.

And after two years of hybrid school schedules and online learning, kids may feel apprehensive at an in-person camp.

Fortunately, according to camping experts, there are plenty of ways stay-at-home parents can help out their summer campers.

Share information

This year, “kids need more,” says Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association. “They need more supervision, they need more coaching.”

Camp directors and counselors might be especially grateful to get some insight into the children they host. Communicate with those responsible: Knowing how a child reacts to conflict “helps us provide a better camper experience,” agrees Julie Bowman, manager of camps and public experiences at the Carnegie Science Center.

Consider sending a note to camp directors to share with your child the strategies that work for you.

look at the words

Parents often write letters to sleepy campers explaining how terribly the kids are missing at home. These parents mean well, “but this 9-year-old really believes their parent needs them. They’re worried about their parents,” says Bob Bechtold, director of programs at Sarah Heinz House, which runs a camp. day camp and a night camp. And they might be more homesick.

Rather than focusing your letter on missing the child, Bechtold says, “there should be more prompts to get kids to talk about their experiences and tell them how proud you are.”

Mention that you can’t wait to hear their stories about camp and that you’re so glad they’re having new experiences.

“It puts them in a good place where they can be successful — where they don’t worry about their house, where they don’t think about what’s going on there,” Bechtold says. “That’s what camp is about – creating those memories, living in the moment.”

Also let your child know in your letters that this summer can be a summer for trying new things and having fun rather than worrying about excelling, Rosenberg says.

“Making mistakes is a huge part of the learning, development and growth mindset,” he says, and “that’s what’s great about camp. It’s a place where children can really learn to improve their disposition, to learn and become more curious, to be more discovery-oriented. And don’t be afraid to go out there and try something new.

Send supplies

Camps often have emergency items like towels that a camper can borrow. But kids can feel surprisingly uncomfortable telling a counselor they’ve forgotten something, Bechtold says. Some will skip key items rather than ask for help.

So if your child hasn’t left for camp yet, confirm what’s needed even if you think you know, and use a written checklist when packing. And if camp has already started, let your child know that if there’s anything left, they can tell their counselors and ask for help to remedy the situation.

Manage devices

Help your child understand and follow camp policy on phones and digital devices. Sometimes the rules can be shocking to kids who have spent a lot of time on digital devices in the past couple of years.

At Bowman Day Camp, “we encourage them not to bring cell phones,” she says. “And if they bring a cell phone, we ask them to keep it hidden.”

Rosenberg says it can be especially stressful for some boys who are more accustomed to communicating via text or gaming platforms where they’re not expected to show emotion or connect empathetically with others.

If your child has not yet started camp, confirm the policy on phones and other devices and prepare your camper for it. If camp is underway and your child is frustrated that device usage is limited, try encouraging them to go screen-free (or at least screen-minimum) for the summer.

The beauty of camp, says Rosenberg, is that children develop their budding identities by connecting face-to-face with others.

Ideally, he says, millions of children will put digital screens aside this summer and “start to make stronger social-emotional connections — the human connections we all need.”

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