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The Transformative Power of Sleepaway Camp

Sending your child to a sleepaway camp is a huge step in your child’s life– even if you don’t realize it! Summer camps offer great ways for children to grow emotionally and socially while making new friends and building new life skills along the way. We know it may seem nerve-wracking to send your children away for a week-long– or even month-long– overnight camp experience, but we’re here to reassure you it will all be okay. 

Tommy Feldman is the director of Camp Granite Lake, a small, family-owned, co-ed sleepaway camp just outside of Denver, Colorado. But what makes Feldman even more of a camp expert? His own children attend other summer sleepaway camps, so he knows what it’s like to be on both sides and is here to help grant some peace of mind throughout this process.

Where to Start
We’re all about healthy communication here so it’s no surprise we advise you to talk with your child about what the camp they’re going to is like and what they hope to gain from their camp experience. After all, “an uninformed child is a child that is not going to succeed and thrive in a camp environment,” says Feldman. It’s important to help your child choose a camp that not only aligns with their interests and personal hobbies but also your family values. 

“There are so many factors to consider beyond price, beyond schedule, and location,” explains Feldman, “Looking for the right kinds of activities and making sure that the philosophy based on caring for the social and emotional development of your child aligns with your goals as a parent.”

Your child may also be nervous about attending a sleepaway camp for the first time, so Feldman also advises exploring the camp websites together and leaving room for children to ask questions, look at pictures, and overall just spark a conversation about the experience. Most camps nowadays offer opportunities to meet with camp directors or counselors beforehand so that no question goes unanswered before your child leaves.

Many families have children with special needs, whether it’s related to their development, dietary requirements, or any other accommodations. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available for all children, regardless of their background or physical condition. However, it’s essential to ask camp directors questions to ensure that the camp can genuinely provide a safe and inclusive environment for your child.

Addressing First-Time Jitters
Oftentimes, children attend sleepaway camps by themselves or with siblings, if they have any. Inviting friends is a great way to calm your child’s nerves, but remind them that summer camps are all about making new friends, even if it is a little scary. Another good practice to ease children’s nerves is having them sleep away from home before they go.

“For kids who have never been away to sleepaway camp or never been away from home for even a night,” Feldman says, “[that is] really the first step to making a child comfortable with spending the night away.” He describes these small sleepovers with friends or even family members as bridges to what sleepaway camp really is: either a seven-, or 20-, or 30-day sleepover with all of your new best friends. 

You can also help your child pack for their upcoming trip and ask them questions about what they’re bringing. Maybe you can remind them to pack their favorite T-shirt or remind them of little things they might forget– anything that will give your camper a sense of ownership and comfort while in transition. 

Staying In Touch
Sometimes, parents are more ready to send their child away to camp than the child is. On the flip side, many children are thrilled to finally catch a break from their parents for the summer. Regardless, staying in touch with your child is extremely important to both of you. 

Feldman explains how parents who continuously offer to rescue their child from camp under any non-emergent circumstances “are actually undermining the entire message you’re trying to send to your child and undermining the experience altogether.”

Most camps allow for children and parents to communicate via letters in the mail (you remember… the old-fashioned way) and some even allow for electronic letters, but that often depends on the camp itself and its location. Writing letters is great for both parents and campers, as parents can continuously provide positive reinforcement to their children. Remind them that you believe in them, and they will have a great time, and they will succeed, as opposed to going on about how much you miss them and what the dog has been up to. 

The Importance of Communication
When asked what kinds of activities children can look forward to at camp, Feldman immediately highlights one thing camps won’t be including in their daily itinerary: screen time! While connecting with the outdoors is a huge component of summer camps, many camps focus on the social development of the child too. 

Children these days are accustomed to communicating through screens, using apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, to name a few. As a result, they may not feel as comfortable with face-to-face interactions. However, according to Feldman, this is actually the most common activity that they engage in. They often sit in bunks and have conversations as they drift off to sleep. They sit across the table from someone, discussing various topics, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company in a physical sense. This enables children to create their own community and establish their own rules.

Summer sleepaway camps, like Camp Granite Lake and many others, offer a wide range of physical extracurricular activities suitable for athletes of all skill levels. From archery, hiking, and climbing to water sports like sailing, canoeing, and paddle boarding, there’s something for everyone. But if sports aren’t your child’s cup of tea, they can also indulge in arts and crafts, theater, dance, and even ceramics. Nighttime activities are usually similar across the board too, including game nights, talent shows, and campfires.

You might think your child is about to experience a summer filled with action, but don’t worry. According to Feldman, camps typically offer downtime and rest periods as well. So, if your child wants to curl up with a book or meditate with nature, they can do it all.

Long-Term Benefits
“This experience is truly transformative for the children,” Feldman asserts. At camp, kids acquire valuable life skills that may be challenging for parents to impart. No matter what, campers can expect to benefit from this experience, and they may even want to return next year! Believe in your children and help them see this experience through to the end. 

By prioritizing independence, camps teach campers decision-making skills, how to care for themselves and leave them feeling capable of achieving more than they thought possible. This is perhaps the most significant takeaway from the camp experience, whether it’s one week, 20 weeks, or 30 weeks long.

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