Summer’s here and one dream looms in the minds of many kids: summer camp. As parents who are invested in your child’s lives — who’ve chosen to homeschool and focus on their needs — it might be tough to let go and allow others to teach, mold, and grow your children. But, it could also be the best thing for them! The experience of going away to a summer camp can be a life altering event for a child. It’s a great way for children to experience a new environment on their own, avoid summer brain drain, and learn important lessons in leadership, independence, conflict resolution, and self-awareness.
However, the reality for parents is that it can be difficult to find the right camp that fits your child’s unique needs. There are so many factors to consider the choices can sometimes feel overwhelming. How far away is the camp from your home? What activities will your child engage in? Are they equipped with a nurse on staff?
And the biggest question of all, how do I choose the right camp for my child?
Mission: Summer Camp
The first step in choosing the right camp is to consider your goals. That’s right, what you as a parent want for your child this summer. You’re their first and best teacher, their advocate, and you know them best. If you had to write a mission statement for your child — one sentence that summed up what you hope they gain from camp — what would it say? What character traits do they need to develop? What areas of their individuality need some nurturing? What is missing from your homeschool routine, like art or music, that you could beef up with summer camp? Start there. You know your child best and have their best interests at heart. Choose a few areas of growth and learning and let them guide you.
Then, talk with them about it! Since your child will be the one attending the camp, discussing with them their interests and what they want to achieve with summer camp this year should near the top of your list. So they excelled in soccer this year; that doesn’t mean they want to keep playing it throughout the summer. Maybe you’re homeschooling lessons uncovered an interest in science or nature. Involving them in the discussion will help you to find the right type of camp and keep them at the center.
The Maturity Factor
It’s also important to take maturity level into consideration. Just because your child is 10 doesn’t mean they are ready for a camp for 10-14 year olds. For instance, I enrolled my son Devon in a camp for 7-10 year olds because of his ADHD diagnosis and maturity level. By putting my 9 year old in a group where he will be older, perhaps even a leader, I know he will feel more mature and have a more positive experience.
Independence is also a major factor to consider. You’ll need think through how comfortable your child is with leaving you for an extended period of time. If your child has not spent a great deal of time away from Mom and Dad, you might want to try a day camp before enrolling them in a multi-week, or overnight camp. Or send them along with a friend to make the initial culture shock more comfortable.
Once you have an idea of what your child would like to explore this summer, it’s time to start whittling down the list of camps. Find a few that are within your range of distance, cost, and mission (and any other requirements you might have) then get the camp director on the phone to schedule a time for a walk-through. Take advantage of this time to observe the camp in action, get a copy of their daily schedule, ask questions about your child unique requirements, and get a gut feeling about how your child might like the camp. The more transparent the camp, the better. It’s also important to get your child involved in the decision process. It will give them a sense of shared power and the more they get involved, they more excited they’re going to be to go.
But remember, only bring your child into the process on things you want them to have a voice on. If you know you can’t afford to send them to a camp five hours away, don’t even bring it up. Find four or five you’re comfortable with, then sit down with your child and talk about it.
Preparing to Go
Even if you do all of your due diligence and find the perfect camp for your child, you still have the added pressure of helping your child prepare for the experience, including everything from bedtime routines to bullying. How can you ensure he will have a good time and know how to protect himself when you’re not there?
The best way I’ve found is to talk through some possible new experiences that might pop up and how to properly deal with them. What do you do if someone makes fun of you? Why should we change by ourselves in the bathroom? What could you say if someone is making you feel uncomfortable? It’s important to emotionally prepare your child through communication and empower them to say no or yes and make wise decisions.
Learning how to make friends, dealing with new life experiences, and being able to make independent decisions is an important part of growing up. For homeschooled students who may not have the exposure to large groups of peers, summer camp can be a time to foster important social skills and independence. So when choosing a summer camp remember to remain focused on your child’s unique needs and interests, and you’ll craft a memorable summer camp experience that they’ll likely never forget.
Stay tuned for our next article on how to use summer camps to extend your child’s learning and bolster homeschool year!
Have any tips that you’ve used for finding the perfect summer camp for your little one? Share them in a comment below!