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Is your child ready for sleep-away camp?

  • Washington Post
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, at 11:59 p.m.

How can you tell whether your child is ready for a sleep-away camp?

It’s difficult to set a hard-and-fast age because kids vary so much developmentally.

Peg Smith, CEO for the American Camp Association, said the average age for a first trip to overnight camp is between 7 and 9 years old, but it really depends on the child. A mature 6-year-old might be ready to go, while an immature 10-year-old might not be able to handle it.

Smith said parents should consider whether their child has been away from them overnight before, either with friends or family members, and how she has handled those separations.

“A lot of it has to do with the child’s expectations,” Smith said. “It depends if they have friends who are going, and if they have had these separations before.

“Really, it’s the child’s expectations that will drive the experience, and determine your confidence in them.”

Parents should also compare their child’s age with the ages of the other campers to make sure it will be a good fit, with a small counselor-to-camper ratio for the youngest children. One counselor for six children is a good size for kids ages 6 to 8, Smith said.

“Your confidence really falls into two areas: your child’s ability to manage the separation, and your confidence in the camp,” Smith said.

If you decide to send her to camp, find out how the camp deals with homesickness, which is a natural part of going away, Smith said. But don’t tell your child that she can call you if she gets sad or homesick because that will set her up with the idea that she will be scared or lonely.

Instead, talk about all of the fun things she will be doing, either things she already likes to do, or new activities. Focus on the positive things that she will get from camp.

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