Growing up in South Africa, sleepover camps weren’t nearly as popular. Or maybe it was just me who didn’t care to know much about them. I hated the idea of not having a washroom in my cabin and having to make my way to one with only a flashlight to guide me. And I didn’t want to sit around camp fires listening to ghost stories that I feared would keep me awake at night.
My husband, on the other hand, looked forward to the entire sleeping away from home experience. He loved the independence, the camp outs, the sharing a cabin with 11 other boys his age, the trekking through the wild wooded area and portaging to the river. I think he especially loved the friendships he made and all the activities such as windsurfing and archery that he might never have been exposed to closer to home.
So, after our older daughter was grown up enough to choose between day camp and sleepover camp, I had to think really carefully about how I was going to help her make her decision. I ultimately encouraged my husband to play a larger role in sharing his positive experiences with her. We also requested that certain overnight camps send us their promotional DVDs so that she could see all that they had to offer. Since she already had a good taste of spending days away from us at summer day camps, she was then able to compare the two. Being more reticent and less adventurous in nature, she ultimately chose to stick closer to home.
Over the years, she enjoyed her experience at a couple of wonderful day camps. She loved the spirit and camaraderie on the bus to camp. The campers and counsellors named their buses, decorated their interiors and sang songs to and from camp. Far enough from home and surrounded by nature, she felt as if she was experiencing the great outdoors. She loved swimming – both instructional and recreational – twice a day and especially loved the giant waterslide. She loved the farm animals, the arts and crafts, the drama and dancing classes and participating in all the sports activities. At the end of the day she arrived home, exhausted but looking forward to returning the following day. Ultimately, she became a counsellor at a day camp and continued to enjoy that experience.
My younger daughter is more like her dad. She is an explorer and a lover of nature. She is less bothered by creepy crawlies and adapts easily to new situations. Now that the time has come to think about going to sleepover camp, as many of her friends are, she is fully contemplating it.
Here are some things to consider when choosing between day and sleepover camp:
1. Know your child. Every child is different and while it’s true that some children need to be encouraged to take on challenges and overcome fears, others can be quite traumatized if they are forced into an experience that they are not ready for.
2. Slow and steady. I’m not a big fan of sending very young (6 or 7 year olds) to sleepover camp. I think that young children are better suited to enjoying activities days closer to home. For a first time experience, children may do better with shorter periods away from home (up to 10 days) rather than going away for a month as a first time experience.
3. If you remove the sleeping away from home component, many day camps offer as enriched an activities experience as do overnight camps. Its best to try to find a camp that offers activities that meet your child’s interests rather than sending your child to the most popular camp or the one closest to home.
4. Engage your child in the decision between day or sleepover camp. Even though children do not have the life experience to make this kind of decision alone, let them have their say. If possible, visit camp sites ahead of making your decision so that you can all take a look around and meet the counsellors and staff.
5. Its best, when possible, to have your child attend camp – especially for the first time – with a friend or family member. Chances are that he or she will branch out very quickly but most children say that it’s comforting to have a familiar face close by.