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You’ve started your research and have began looking at overnight camps. You’re excited, but unsure if your child (or you) are really ready. We get it.

So, how do you know if your child is ready for sleepaway camp? Well, unfortunately there is no magic answer to this question. It’s important to consider a variety of factors when making this decision. Here are some questions to ask yourself (and your child) as you navigate exploring overnight summer camp.

1. Does your child love day camp?

This is a great place to start. There are many similarities between day and overnight camps. Does your child love running around with their friends at day camp? Playing games? Singing songs? Being outside? Day and overnight camps offer many of the same activities, and if your child loves day camp, then it’s likely they will enjoy the activities overnight camp offers as well.

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2. Can my child perform routine hygiene tasks on their own?

At sleepaway camp, counselors will remind and encourage their campers to brush their teeth, wash their face, and shower daily. And, your child will need to complete and manage these routines on their own. If your child can care for their own hygiene (with some gentle yet firm encouragement), then they will probably be able to do so at camp.

3. What are sleepovers like for my child?

Think of sleepovers as a super mini-version of overnight camp. Your child is dropped off somewhere they don’t normally sleep, they do activities, spend the night, and then they are picked up to return home. Just like camp! If your child enjoys sleepovers with their friends and family, that is a great sign that they will also enjoy overnight camp.

4. Does your child want to go to sleepaway camp?

Whenever someone asks me if their child is ready for sleepaway camp, I reply, “Well, how does your child feel about it?” It can be difficult for kids to fully comprehend what it means to go to sleepaway camp, so you’ll want to make sure you paint a clear picture for them. And it is also appropriate to ask them how they feel and trust their judgment. You can form a partnership with your child and make the decision together. Know that it is normal for kids to feel many emotions about camp. If they want to attend, that gives you some information about their readiness. It’s harder for kids to succeed at camp if they don’t want to be there in the first place.

5. You plan a night out and hire a sitter for the evening. Is your child asleep when you come home late at night?

It’s normal for kids not to want their parents to go out without them! For some kids separating is the hardest part. Once their parents leave they have a great time with the sitter and they are able to complete nighttime routines and fall asleep without their parents. If this is the case, it’s a good sign that your child will be comfortable at camp. For other children, just being apart is difficult. Do you come home from a night out to find your child anxiously awaiting your arrival? Camp helps kids become more independent, and some degree of independence is required to be successful when first attending overnight camp.

6. You attend a family friend’s birthday party with your child, and there is a group of kids playing a game when you arrive. You know your kid likes this game! You ask your child if they want to join in on the game..how do they respond?

Camp helps prepare kids to navigate new situations in the real world, because there is a lot of novelty at camp - new staff, new friends, new activities, new experiences…so much newness! Willingness to try new things with new people is one component of what makes kids successful at camp.

7. How would you describe your child’s friendships?

All types of kids love camp. Your child doesn’t need to have a million friends to be ready for camp. Some children are very comfortable having a smaller circle of friends. Perhaps they are introverts or maybe just quieter. That’s fine…even at camp! And, there is a difference between sending your child to camp because you hope they make great friends and sending your child to camp because they haven’t yet developed the social skills to form age appropriate friendships.

8. [Bonus Question!] OK, I read through your very helpful list! I’m still not sure if my child is ready for overnight camp. What should I do?

Yeah, we get it. Sometimes this decision isn’t crystal clear. Good news is, you have some options. Many camps offer introductory sessions for younger campers (most range between 3-7 days). This is a great way for your child to try camp without committing to a longer session. Many camps also offer family weekends, that way you can attend camp together.

Talking to a camp director can also be helpful, and they’ll be happy to talk with you. Camp professionals have a lot of experience helping families make this decision, and many camps will often travel and meet prospective families in the winter.

Our advice – be honest and open about who your child is when talking to camp. You’re beginning a partnership that will hopefully last for many summers. When you provide camp with complete information about your child it helps them provide the best care possible and builds trust. Camp directors want you to send your child to camp, and it’s also not in their best interest to enroll kids who aren’t ready for the experience.

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