Day and overnight summer camp

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McGaw YMCA Camp Echo campers participate in a boating and canoeing camp activity by paddling around the lake in a 1950s-era war canoe.

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Spending time at camp, day or overnight, is a brilliant way for children to develop, become inspired, make friendships, learn independence and have a fun experience over the summer.

Daytime camp readiness

Attending camp for a set amount of hours during the day is a smart way to introduce young children to the idea of camp. MCGAW YMCA Children’s Center in Evanston enrolls children as young as three in their summer camp program.

“At this age, most children are interested in having social interactions with other children and show readiness for participating in cooperative play,” said early childhood manager, Luba Dimitrova. “For some children, this might be the first experience in a group setting and we approach them with a lot of care and attention on their first days. The teachers are prepared to help them separate from the parents by redirecting them to activities set up in the classroom as well as by providing loving interactions.”

Dimitrova suggests that, in order to ease separation at drop-off, parents should establish a consistent routine-place backpack in the locker, give a hug, say goodbye, etc. In addition, she advises parents to allow for enough time so that the child does not feel rushed through the routine. Parents should remain calm because kids can pickup on anxiety.

Eileen Prendergast, youth and family programs director at the Chicago Botanic Garden, said: “Tell your child the schedule for the day: ‘You’ll be dropped off, we’ll meet your teacher and new friends, you’ll do a fun activity in the garden, have a snack and you’ll be picked up before lunch and then you can tell me all about your day!’ We would also welcome parents to bring their child to the garden to see it and become familiar with it prior to the first day.”

First-time campers with social difficulties

Participating in camp for the first time is often an intimidating prospect for children and more so for those with social language or social emotional challenges. One camp strives to provide an enriching experience for kids that might need a little extra attention: One in a Hundred Summer Camp.

Mara H. Lane M.S., CCC/SLP, camp director at One In A Hundred Summer Camp, suggests that in addition to visiting the camp ahead of time and meeting your child’s prospective counselors, parents should also take a bunch of photographs of the camp to help their child become familiar and comfortable with what’s to come. Initiating frequent conversations about camp the week before the start date is also helpful.

“Ask the camp if they have a video showing the campers participating in different activities that the child can preview,” said Lane. “Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Sleep-away adventurers

Sending your child to camp for an extended period of time might seem like a worrisome notion for parents of first-timers, especially if the site isn’t nearby, but some signs clearly point to overnight camp readiness. To ease your apprehension, ask yourself these questions: Has your child been begging you to attend camp away from home? Does your child make friends easily? Are you ready to let your child go?

“There is no magical age that makes a camper ready,” said Meredith Stevens, program director at Camp Echo, MCGAW YMCA. “Some children are ready in second grade and others aren’t ready until late middle school. It really does vary from child to child. Often times the most homesick campers are the ones that didn’t really want to go in the first place, but their parents sort of pushed them into it.”

To be better prepared, check to see if the camp has an information night for parents and campers, which would be an excellent way to set expectations and interact with staff members. Parents might also be able to tour the camp prior to signing up to check it out and make sure it’s a good fit, especially if your child has special needs-dietary, emotional, behavioral, physical, etc. Also, read all materials that camps provide to learn about specific details. For example, many camps, Camp Echo included, will include your child with their group of friends, if requested.

“If this will be the first time away from home, the child should practice a few short overnights away from mom and dad,” Stevens said. “This can be helpful for parents too. We see a lot of camper-sick parents each summer: parents that miss their children way more than their children miss them.”