As the new year approaches, people often get reflective and introspective, pondering the things they…
Sleep away camps have long been memorialized as a summertime essential in movies like The Parent Trap (1961 version of course), Ernest Goes to Camp and many others. It’s where best friends meet, first loves blossom, new skills are learned, challenges overcome and so much more. For a parent like me, with no family close by to offer any sort of holiday away from the kids, I am dreaming of the day when my munchkins are old enough to join this summer tradition (and Mom and Dad get a well deserved break)!
I never went to summer camp as a kid, so I wanted to do a little research before I send my precious darlings away for any extended period of time. Often at this time of year, thoughts are focused on back to school, but for someone like me who likes to thoroughly research and plan things out well in advance, I’m already looking into camp information for next year. To get me started, I talked to Mark Diamond & Jeff Wilson, Camp Directors & Owners of Camp Manitou in Ontario, Canada and asked them to share their expertise and get some answers to the questions I have.
4 Questions to Ask Before Sending Your Child to Summer Camp
1. What is the best age to send a child to sleep away camp? How do you know they’re ready?
Most children are ready to attend sleepover camp between the ages of 7-9, while second or third siblings often tend to be ready at the earlier age. We suggest you aim to begin the overnight camp experience by grade 4 because friendships tend to form in the earlier years and starting in a cabin where most campers are new can make the transition easier. At the same time, we have kids attend camp for the first time in grade seven, eight or even nine who have all loved camp and integrated immediately with their peers.
The best sign that a child is ready is if they are asking to go to camp or if they have been able to successfully sleep out of their home. Again we have had kids that have never had a sleep out and even slept in their parents beds who have done fine at camp. This is because they are surrounded by their peers and have their counsellors in the same building. The key is having the camp director personally meet your child so they can ascertain if they are ready and gain the trust of the child and form the relationship with the camp director.
2. How do you choose a camp for your child? What questions should you ask, what qualities/features should you look for?
We have a list of questions on our camp FAQ – about 50 questions to ask your camp director. But some very basic questions include:
Who are the camp owners and directors? What is the camper-staff ratio? What is the age of the staff? How many older camp staff are there such as camp directors, unit heads or activity heads? How many staff are at least age 21 and older? What is involved in staff training? What is the return ratio of staff? Who are staff interviews done by, as well as reference checks and criminal record checks? What is the water system like? Is there nutritious food, fruit and a salad bar? What are the activities and the staff training for those activities? Has the camp had any major accidents? Does the camp have a doctor on site? What type of doctor? How far is the camp from a hospital? Do the staff receive first aid training? What swimming and lifeguard qualifications do the staff have? Can the camp give references of parents to talk to about the camp? What is the policy on bullying and more importantly the values and level of respect that is taught among the campers? What is the diversity of the campers, background. Etc ?
3. What tips do you have for preparing your child for their first sleep away camp?
Sending a child to camp for the first time is a leap of faith.
One particularly amazing fact is that approximately 95% of first time campers go to camp and return home having had a great camp experience, not just a good experience. At the same time many parents who went to camp in their childhood may forget that it took them a few years to fully get comfortable in an overnight camp setting.
Some of my greatest camp directing stories involve campers that were homesick for many years and in the end, it was because of camp that they became so well adjusted, resilient and happy adults. Each child is different and while most children attend camp for the first time between the ages of six to eight, some also start later.
The child needs to trust the owners and directors and know they are there for them. That first connection than allows the child to come into camp feeling secure and then allowing the next connection with the unit head and counsellors to occur. The first tip is to not be concerned about being homesick. There is a wonderful book by a leading American child psychologist called “homesick and happy “ that is a must read for first time camp parents. The point of this book is that its normal to be homesick and children should not try to be tough to hide this but in fact be open and not be scared if they are feeling sad at certain points of the day. Once they open up and counsellors can support the child the homesickness will naturally go away after a few days. The other tip is to try a sleep out but not put pressure on your child to say it must be successful but to practice some sleep outs giving your child no expectation but rather just having “practice time”. There are many little things that go into ensuring a positive first camp experience; find our full and detailed list of ideas on how to prepare your child here.
4. Why is summer camp an important childhood experience?
Times are tough and in challenging economic times we as Overnight Summer Camp Owners and Directors reflect upon our good fortune in being able to do our part in giving your children a healthy positive summer camp experience. We thank you for making an investment in your children as we know there are many conflicting and wonderful opportunities out there for your child. But now is also as good a time as ever to think about why you are sending your child to camp? Aside from all the incredible lifetime friends your child will make, the fun times, the memories, the skills learned at activities, the truth is that summer camp is a training ground for the positive values that you want your kids to adopt as they mature into secure confident and caring adults. These values come out of the power of connections where children of all ages want to be part of something bigger and more important than themselves; it comes out of the power of we instead of I.
The power of summer camp is the “social capital” that is lacking in today’s technologically driven society. Dinner parties, clubs, family picnics, are all down 40%. Happiness begins with a feeling of connection and having so many positive role models and new friends waiting to be made creates that all-important sense of connection. If there ever was a time for our next generation to learn about the power of direct (not computer driven) social connections, it is now. If you ask any Manitou camper when we say they are part of the” Manitou family” they know we mean it, it’s not a corny cliché – it’s real and meaningful!
Overnight Summer camp works because children are able to unlock and enrich their passions for group living; with 195 mentors who believe in similar values and act as role models at every turn. And guess what, kids are actually spending at least half of their day outside! The average child has less than thirty minutes of outdoor play a week. Children today have NDD, nature deficit disorder.
At summer camp kids are exposed to the outdoors and are also appreciating the environment around them. In fact this summer we have a new head staff position; lets call it “the environmental ombudsman”. He will be leading activities and specific cabin groups in activities that focus on the beauty of our environment around us. At summer camp kids will be making solar panels to operate lights, cultivating an organic garden, learning about camp conservation, exploring nature with an actual butterfly farm, and participating in green challenges throughout the summer. Combine that with good old-fashioned cooking on an open fire, guitar and s’mores (or s’morkles!) around the campfire, campouts and canoe trips, and other outdoor activities (even in the rain!) and you have an instant cure for NDD.
Overnight camp serves as the balancing point and source of stability in comparison to the school year. At Manitou we reinforce respect for being different, and teach children the value of friendship with people that are not exactly the same as them. We teach the value of taking positive risks and the value of reaching out to the camp community as well as to the local community, to make the world a better place.
Connections at overnight summer camp happen by campers and staff coming together to form a community through collective play, a tapestry of mutual respect, with trust and fulfillment along the way. Growing up at camp means teaching children to live in the moment, to communicate honestly and respectfully face to face and to appreciate their environment. The beauty of camp is that your kids don’t know that camp is a training ground for promoting their leadership, improving their confidence and most importantly inculcating their core values of respect, empathy, compassion and integrity.
Camp Manitou is on the majestic shores of Manitouwabing in the Muskoka Parry Sound Area of Ontario. It offers a traditional environment with campers from around the world featuring skill development in over 35 activities, visual and creative arts, outdoor adventure, canoe tripping, land and water sports. Our mature staff, with over 50 college/university graduates, and over 200 staff for approximately 450 campers ensures the best of supervision, and a safe nurturing environment for any type of child. Please contact us to book your personal home visit to discuss camp.