Keeping your children busy during the summer can be challenging. One great activity that also can help children mature socially, emotionally, and physically is summer camp.
Camp helps kids to discover and learn new skills while exploring their many talents and interests. Camp also gives children the opportunity to make and develop friendships. Some children go to camp with friends from their school or neighborhood, while other children branch out on their own and make all new friends. By learning to get along with children from different backgrounds and to handle new challenges, children can improve their own self-esteem and learn so much more about themselves.
Day camps, including those sponsored by schools and playgrounds, offer whole-day or half-day programs. They often provide transportation to and from the camp each day and also may provide lunch for your child. Some day camps are available for children as young as 4 years old. Children over age 6 or 7 may be interested in overnight camps, at which children stay overnight in tents or cabins for periods of time that can range from about one week to two months. All meals are provided.
Although many camps are "just for fun," some are designed for teaching special skills, such as sports, music or science. Camps with specially trained staff are also available for children with disabilities or specific health-care needs, such as cancer or diabetes.
With thousands of camps in the United States, finding a camp in your area should be easy. Many community organizations, such as the YMCA, Scouts, and church groups, offer affordable camping experiences for all children. There are also private camps throughout the country; however, some of these can cost several thousand dollars for the entire summer experience.
With so many camp choices, the task of selecting the right one for your child can be difficult. Here are some steps to help focus your search:
Consider your child’s personality. Every child is different, and it is important that you choose the camp that is best for your child. For example, would your child enjoy an overnight camp, or prefer to be away from home during the day while sleeping at home each night? What is your child’s learning style? Would she prefer a camp where the counselors plan the activities, or a less structured environment where she plans most of her day?
Include your child in the decision making. Before starting the search, speak with your child. Does he even want to go to camp? What does he hope to gain from his experiences at camp? For instance, if he is most interested in improving his soccer skills, a soccer camp might be the ideal choice.
Research the camps in your area. When you are researching a camp, think about these questions adapted from the American Camping Association (ACA):
Help your child to have an enjoyable camp experience by preparing him or her in advance.
When departing for camp, remind your child that you will miss him, but that you are excited that he will be having fun!
Henry H. Bernstein, D.O. is a Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.