Head for the Bunk: Sleepaway Camps

Head for the Bunk: Sleepaway Camps

Overnight camps bring the traditional menu of activities such as hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, games, arts and crafts, performing arts, archery, horseback riding, nature studies, and of course, campfires. Some camps have even added exploration in science and technology.

Being in an unfamiliar environment also develops a child’s courage and resourcefulness.

Amy McCartney, mom to three children who attended Falcon Camp in Carrollton, says daughter Carrie was always painfully shy, hardly speaking to strangers. However, upon return from camp, “You could see a complete change in her self-confidence level,” McCartney says. “Carrie was more capable of meeting new people and looking them in the eye. “It made a tremendous difference in her life.”

She looked for “a well-run organization that focuses on developing young children, [teaching them to be] respectful, responsible, all while having great times and making wonderful friendships.”

Although the age of campers may range from 6-18, the typical age of overnighters is 10-13. Kids love the experience, so a 60 percent return rate is not uncommon. Enrollment often begins in January and February, but sometimes as early as November the previous year.

Parents use the same methods for finding overnight (or residential) camps as they do day camps.

Ready for Camp?
How do you know when your child is ready to be away from home — and you?

If your child is age 9 and younger, they might be ready if they bring it up, says Dave Devey, owner of Falcon Camp in Carrollton and a member of the American Camp Association’s Council of Leaders. Leave out a camp brochure; if they show interest, begin the conversation.

If they are age 10 and older, “It’s time for them to figure it out. Give it a try,” Devey suggests. “Independence is a sign: when they’re comfortable staying overnight at a friend’s house, when they seem to be able to manage some things on their own,” like packing their own lunch, getting ready for school, or doing chores.

Consideration factors also include the fact that there will be an additional list of items to pack and gear to bring, which could be extensive, including clothes, toiletries, linens and camping gear. Online photos and virtual tours will become more important, as will staff training. Parents may want to contact the camp to get a feel for the culture, or how they handle discipline issues.

First, calculate the total cost of the class or camp, including transportation, extra fees (for materials or equipment), and food.

Consider family finances and how much you have available for extracurricular activities. Resist the urge to splurge on a camp outside of your means; save for another year. Create a camp or class fund, setting aside money each month. Ask relatives to contribute for a birthday or holiday gift. Earmark a portion of a tax refund or bonus for the fund. More importantly, use this as an opportunity to teach your child the value of money by having them contribute between 25 to 50 percent of the cost. Your child will feel more invested in the experience.

Many facilities offer discounts for early enrollment, for multiple classes/camps, and for multiple children within a family. Always ask about “camperships” (scholarships), which might be given to a child needing additional financial assistance or demonstrating exceptional skill or interest.

Cost varies widely and is determined by the quality of the equipment, food, facilities, staff training, and the activities offered. You could pay as little as $200 or more than $1,000 per week, with the average being around $600-700. Ask the camp how much pocket money your child should bring. Also, parents shouldn’t assume their income doesn’t qualify for a campership.

Setting up Your Child for Success
Before camp: Your child is ready to go. You’ve gone over camp rules, labeled clothing and gear, and snuck cheerful notes into their belongings. It’s time for an honest conversation: Encourage them to express their fears, then validate their feelings, letting them know that it’s normal to have moments of apprehension and homesickness. Help them set realistic expectations — camp will have high points and low ones. Have them bring a lovey toy or small remembrance (like a photo in a pillbox) that they can keep in their pocket, saying, “When you see this, think of me hugging you.” Reinforce your family’s values, reminding them that being a good person means doing the right thing when your parents aren’t around. Finally, express confidence that they have the ability to handle the experience.

“The worst thing you can say is, ‘If you’re not having fun, I’ll come and get you,’” Devey says, because, “as soon as it becomes tough, they’re going to take the easy way out.”

During camp:  Send a care package in time for it to arrive early in the week; follow camp rules about the contents, so your child is not put in an awkward situation with campmates. Keep communications upbeat.

Camp vs. Camp
Once you have narrowed down your search, delve into the details, listing them on a spreadsheet so you can compare camps.

When choosing an overnight camp for your child, there a few things that parents should consider, besides the obvious “Is my child ready to attend camp?” says Courtney Guzy, executive director at The Hiram House Camp in Chagrin Falls. “All overnight camps offer a variety of programming that can enhance your child’s education, imagination and overall growth. Overnight camp can help children develop a sense of community, cultivate healthy relationships and learn through hands-on experiences.”

She says before enrolling your child in an overnight summer camp, parents should consider the following questions: What is the camp’s mission and philosophy? Will camp teach my child a new skill or enhance a current strength? Is there opportunity for personal growth each summer at camp? Will my child feel challenged in a positive way? Will my child be bored? Does an opportunity exist to meet and make new friends who may be different from him/her? Will the types of programming offered match my child’s interest? Most importantly: Will they have fun?

Aurora Smith, public relations coordinator for iD Tech Camps, finds that parents today are most interested in quality and safety.

“Ask for the name of a previous attendee to talk to,” suggests Dave Devey, owner of Falcon Camp in Carrollton and a member of the American Camp Association’s Council of Leaders.

Compare online reviews and call with specific questions. This may give you a feel for the facility’s culture. Also, view online photos and virtual tours. If you wish to visit, choose an open house or time when children are present.

Things to Consider
STAFF: What’s the staff-to-camper ratio? What kind of training do they have? Are there background checks? How do they handle discipline problems?SAFETY AND SECURITY: What are the safety and security protocols and emergency procedures? Do staff know CPR and basic first aid? Is staff able to dispense medication or give a child with ADHD extra time? If your child has a food allergy, can the food manager make substitutions or prevent cross-contamination? Can your child bring food?DAY TO DAY: How is the day structured, and what type of activities are there? Will there be field trips, and who transports the kids? Are meals and snacks provided?SPECIAL NEEDS: You want your child to have a good experience, says Devey, so he recommends talking to the camp director. “If your child needs assistance, you need to be upfront with what their needs are, so the camp can say, ‘Yes, we can do that,’ or ‘No, we can’t.’” he says. “If you’re not comfortable with the answers you are getting, call [another camp]. Find the one that is right for you and your child.”

Deborah Osgood, vice president of development and marketing for Achievement Centers for Children, says its Camp Cheerful is a place where “children with disabilities have the opportunity to ‘take a vacation’ from their disability and to be children first.” Osgood adds it’s also a “much-needed respite for families and caregivers who know that their children with disabilities are safe…while having a wonderful time.”

For even more information on researching, selecting and getting ready for camp, check out our Northeast Ohio Summer Camp Resource Page. It’s your complete guide to all things related to summer camp, including some great local options!

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