No matter the type of camp, preparation is key for each experience.
According to Jason Habig, director of summer programs at Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights; Rhonda Rickelman, director of auxiliary programs at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills; and Lauren Schmidt, camps and school program coordinator at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes in Shaker Heights, preparation should start early.
“One of the most important things is starting when you are looking for camps,” Rickelman said. “It’s important that you involve the child in that. Part of it is campers feel empowerment, ownership and confidence that they make a decision in what their summer is going to look like.”
Schmidt said part of preparation is to expose campers to nature.
“Families should take their kids out in nature as often as possible,” she explained. “Let them experience new situations outside whether it be rolling over a log to see what’s underneath or finding a new path to hike. Letting a child know that being outside in nature is fun and not scary can help them feel prepared about going to a nature camp.”
Habig said it’s important to start the process with as much input as possible.
“It’s important the camper is engaged in the activity,” he said. “One of the things that makes summer programming different is it gives you the chance to deep dive into something.”
Schmidt added, “A camper can learn confidence in their own decision making as well as realizing they are capable of many things, even in unfamiliar situations.”
Though all three professionals said involving the camper is an important part of preparing for the summer, the level of involvement differs.
“In many ways, this is a way to find out what your passions are,” Habig stated. “Dabbling in a sport is only going to get (them) so far in knowing if (they) like it or not, but a long experience will let (them) know if it’s for them. That can inform their decisions in the future from recreation opportunities to course work.”
Having your camper help prepare for camp also lessens stress about new experiences.
“One of the most important things is what they learn about themselves,” Rickelman said. “They don’t have to be afraid of the unknown.”
Schmidt added, “This allows campers to feel familiar with things that they might experience and the more often you can introduce them to these new experiences, the more confident they will feel in future situations that are new.”
Rickelman said it’s important campers also help with packing.
“Camps are different from school in ways kids are responsible for their personal needs like carrying their backpack, packing it up and asking for help,” she explained. “Also, ask the kids what they need to take with them to camp. It’s important for kids to pack their own bags too. So, they know exactly what they have. If parents pack the whole bag, a camper doesn’t even know what they have.”
Habig added packing may differ for overnight and day camp experiences, but it’s important the camper helps in either situation. It helps them tackle the idea of being away from home, he said.
Campers aren’t the only ones who benefit from preparations. Many parents struggle with their children going away.
“It can be hard to send your child to camp, but camp is an invaluable experience for children,” Schmidt noted. “Kids who go to camp learn self-confidence, problem-solving skills, learn to work with others and are more ready for the school year to come. Research where you are interested in sending your camper. This can make you feel more comfortable and confident in the experiences they will have.”
Rickelman said, “More parents have separation anxiety than campers. Parents should be confident that their camper is in a safe place.”
Habig added, “Parent of becoming an adult and growing up is achieving these benchmarks of development. Parents are in a position to know their child best and this helps them make informed decisions. Just know this helps (children) grow and thrive.”