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Important ways to know if your child is ready for overnight camp

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If you are a first-timer to camp there are many things that I, as a camp director, would want you to do in preparation for your child’s summer camp adventure.  First and maybe most importantly, is choosing the right camp.  There are questions that every parent should ask before deciding on a camp for their child.  Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? If not, why not? Is the camp a licensed childcare provider? How long has the leadership staff been in place? What is the process for interviewing and hiring counselors? Is every staff member subject to a background check related to criminal history, professional experience and competence, and personal character? What are the ratios of staff-to-camper for the camp?

Camp Chief Ouray

Camp Chief Ouray

Often times when parents pepper me with these types of questions they apologize for being “a nuisance,” but quite the contrary I always praise them for asking important questions.  Why WOULDN’T anyone want to know in detail what kind of camp they are entrusting with their child? 

After choosing a camp and getting your child registered you will need to do some basic things in preparation.  Every camp should have a packing list it shares with campers and parents.  If the list isn’t thorough, don’t hesitate to ask more questions.  One valuable tip would be to ask the camp to refer you to a long-time camp family and you can ask questions from a parent-to-parent perspective and find out what has worked for them and what hasn’t. 

Getting the proper clothing and gear isn’t the only prep that needs to happen.  You will need to talk to your child about their upcoming experience, whether they are excited or anxious or a little of both.  Talk positively so as to set the tone of success.  For example, if you think they may be prone to home-sickness, encourage them to write letters home to tell of their adventures as opposed to encouraging them to call you if they aren’t having fun. 

Camp Chief Ouray

Camp Chief Ouray

On check-in day I highly encourage all parents, whether first-timers or not, to meet their child’s counselors.  Spend a few minutes with them providing some thoughts on how they can set up your child for success.  Ask what special activities the counselors have planned for the week.  Getting to know the counselors for a few minutes can, if nothing else, give you as the parent a little comfort when you drive away from camp. 

Similarly, on check-out day, spend some time with the counselors asking how the week went.  If nothing else, get some tips from them about what topics you should ask your child about on the car ride home.  Being armed with the right questions can go a long way towards connecting your child’s experience at camp to your understanding of that experience. 

Camp Chief Ouray

Camp Chief Ouray

Lastly, provide the camp with feedback about your child’s experience.  I assure you that any good camp wants to hear the good, the bad and everything in between.  That is one of the most effective ways for camps to get better at what they do: collect feedback and adjust if necessary.   

 Marty is entering his 11th season as Camp Chief Ouray Director and 20th season overall at the camp.  He is the Chairperson of the American Camp Association’s Local Council of Leaders for the Rocky Mountain Field Office and serves on their National Council of Leaders.  Marty and his wife, Jessie, are excited to be raising their 3-month-old daughter, Addy Rose, in the camp setting. 

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 26, 2014

    All great advice. We had a blast at Camp Chief Ouray last year and this year, both of my kids are going for the first time.

    Listen to your gut, do your research and follow Marty’s sage advice.