Though it may not seem like it now, summer is on the horizon. The kids will be home from school, so now is the time to start planning how they will spend their vacation – be it amusement parks, days at the beach or even summer camp.
For some children, summer camp would mean a child’s first time away from their parents for an extended period of time, which could be alarming. But, as the same for many firsts, apprehension can be reduced with preparation.
Rachel Felber, director of the overnight camp at Camp Wise in Claridon Township, said that there are many ways parents can begin to prepare a child for his or her first camp experience, starting with giving them the opportunity to practice being away from home.
“Let them practice at their grandparents’ house or friends’,” Felber said. “When you’re not at home, the routine will be different. You need to make sure that your child is prepared for that.”
Felber said it is important to have discussions with your child about being away from home for the first time because many times the experience can be a little scary, especially when it’s a new place and new experience. If your child is concerned about missing you and being homesick, let him or her know it’s a valid feeling, she said.
“It’s good to let them know how exciting the experience is. You often take risks without knowing what the outcome is, but if you don’t, you’ll never know,” Felber said. “It’s good to have families come to open houses because then campers will come to recognize buildings, faces and it won’t be as much as a shock when they arrive in the summer.”
Felber said that a good step for children who are excited to try camp but are hesitant to be away from home is a day camp to introduce them into the camp environment.
Aaron Tevlowitz, director of J-Day Camps and Children’s Services at Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, said getting your child ready for a day camp is a bit of a different experience, but conversation is still key.
“Tell your child about what they will be doing at camp, whether it’s a day or an overnight camp,” he said. “Tell them it’s all about making friends and having fun. The difference with day camp is, you never know what kind of mood your child will be in.
“When they are at overnight camp, someone else is responsible for getting them ready. Getting them up and ready and out the door is a big task, but keeping them informed about plans and activities keeps them ready for the day.”
Courtney Guzy, executive director of Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills, said it’s very important for parents to get their child involved in the before processes of camp, like packing or practicing the steps for good personal hygiene.
“Get your child involved in the packing process. Parents can go over a list of what (their child) will need. This way, their child can wake up in the morning at camp knowing that they have what they need to get through their day,” Guzy said. “This can help settle a lot of anxiety children face about forgetting something important. You can also go through a mock schedule of activities or even have a get together with their friends and do a camp test run at home.”
Ken Fortuna, camp director of Hiram Day Camp in Moreland Hills, said that telling your child about your personal camp and outdoor experiences are important.
“Tell them about when you went camping, and how it is just like the one they are going to. Talk about your experiences, which can ease their fear and anxiety about being away from home because they can imagine you in their shoes,” Fortuna said.
“You can also teach your child about nature, like animal sounds they may be unfamiliar with but will hear. Even taking them hiking in the park is a good nature exposure exercise.”
It’s important to let children know there is a first time for everything.
“You can’t have a second summer of camp without the first,” Felber said. “The first camp experience is an important one to have. Make sure they have fun and want to come back.”
Becky Raspe is a freelance writer from Cleveland.