No. 1: Look for Signs of Sleepaway Readiness
Kids are usually read for a sleepaway camp at age 9, which is the largest new-camper enrollment age group at Camp Fitch YMCA, says executive director Matt Poese. But children have varying comfort levels with spending the night away from home. Poese says there are a few signs indicating they’re ready:
- Your child has taken steps toward independence, such as making a bowl of cereal in the morning (without you asking) or getting ready for bed.
- Your child has experienced successful sleepovers at a friend’s house. (He or she might feel comfortable at grandma’s house, so testing a night away with a friend is a better measure.)
- Your child expresses interest in sleepaway camp and really wants to go.
No. 2: Select Age-appropriate Activities
Your 5-year-old can navigate YouTube, but does that mean next comes a full-blown coding class?
“Make sure the activities your child is going to participate in are developmentally appropriate,” says Rachel Bowen, co-director of TimberNook of Greater Cleveland.
“There is a trend to push academics down, and to push some of these skills at a younger age, but the question is: Does your child need that skill at this point in their development?”
The same philosophy applies when selecting a full- vs. half-day camp. Some preschoolers are simply not prepared for a full day away from home, says Rhonda Rickelman, director of auxiliary programming at Gilmour Academy. Some signs your young child is ready for a fuller day: “If they can follow instruction and transition from one activity to the next, and if they can work in a group,” she says. “Also, how does the student do with age-appropriate activities including music, dance, arts and crafts?”
A well-rounded camp opportunity might be beneficial for younger children, while specialty camps centered on hobbies is appealing for older children, Rickelman adds.
No. 3: Build in Variety — and Downtime
Summer break happens for a reason — to give young minds the chance to wander off-road and explore new opportunities. Rather than selecting a summerlong camp, maybe your child needs more variety and some time to rejuvenate.
Weeklong specialty camps give students a chance to try many new things without getting bored. One week it’s moviemaking, the next it’s hockey skills.
“If your summer is too over-programmed and your child needs to slow down, they can come for a week of camp here and there,” says Magnificat High School’s Susan Faler.
While this can sound like organizational chaos for parents, the variety can capture kids’ interest and allows them to sample new activities.
“When children are with different teachers and different groups of kids during the summer, they stay engaged,” Faler says.
No. 4: Balance Mental and Physical Exercise
Kirsten Ellenbogen, CEO of the Great Lakes Science Center, shares a summer camp lesson she learned the hard way.
Her son showed a keen interest in computer programming after taking and enjoying some classes. But she overestimated his fondness. “I pushed him into a pretty intense programming class that had no ‘fun’ context,” she relates.
The class was more academic than camp-like. So, it meant lots of screen learning but not enough time to move around. “I regretted that choice,” Ellenbogen says. “Since then, I try to find programming classes that are integrated with other activities he likes to do in a camp setting so he can be outdoors too,” she says. “That makes him a lot happier.”