Preparing your child for summer camp can bring back sweet memories.  S’mores at a campfire. The feel of early morning dew. The refrains of “bunk songs” or camp anthems. Old friends, becoming even closer – new friends, becoming lifelong relationships. Those precious and fleeting moments of discovery, gaining new skills and accomplishment: “I can swim swim the lake!”

As parents, we welcome the opportunity to share our personal camp experience with our children. And now that spring is in bloom, the time has come to decide: is your child ready for an overnight experience?

We asked Lee Trepeck, Director, Camp Maas at Tamarack Camps, to help frame some of parents’ preliminary concerns and here’s what he had to say:

 What is the best age to begin overnight camp?

“I don’t believe there’s a “right” age. Children as young as seven do very well with our camping program. However, simply turning seven doesn’t guarantee readiness. In this matter, personality trumps age. Let your child become the guide.”

 Will your child make friends?

“Making new friends is intrinsic to the camp experience.  At camp, kids really  bond when they’re together – especially through the many activities and shared positive experiences. We encourage campers to work and play as teammates, balancing the value of each individual’s needs and appropriately meshing them within the bunk dynamic.”

 Is your child a good sleeper and not anxious at night?

“Does your child readily stay with grandparents or spend longer periods away from you without getting upset? Can your child have a sleepover at a friend’s house without calling home in the middle of the night? If so, take it as a cue that he or she may be ready for the next step.”

 Is your child comfortable with new experiences?

“You would be surprised how quickly kids are able to adjust from their comfort zones.  Camp has a way of making kids feel at home, even in the midst of new activities and unfamiliar surroundings. Sure, there are times when struggles arise and kids require assurances, but those are the hallmarks of growing and gaining self-reliance.”

 Can your child follow directions?

“Seems like a no-brainer, but this is really important. Following directions is mandatory for a successful stay at a sleepover camp. Kids away from their parents can sometimes feel like they have earned the ticket to total freedom. Of course, we encourage independence; however, to ensure safety and success, it’s equally important that your child understands boundaries and respects the leadership of those in charge.”

Has your child expressed interest in camp?

“Your child’s own desire or interest in overnight camp can be the single best determining factor for evaluating readiness for a positive camp experience. You know best how to read your child’s cues and choose a camp based upon your child’s needs (and not your own).You might try a day camp environment first to see how well your child can handle the experience.  Then listen for phrases like, “I wish it would last longer.”

What about homesickness?

“It’s a part of the process, absolutely normal and totally expected. The question is not whether a camper will be homesick, but what does camp do to prepare. We ensure that our counselors and staff have adequate training and that we have resources in place and a variety of activities to overcome those bouts of homesickness.”

Reflecting on the magic of summers at Tamarack Camps, Trepeck concludes, “I think about the excitement of some of our “big” activities, like Circus Day and the Canada Cup. I remember the smaller moments that dominate a camp experience – building sandcastles on our beach, Kabbalat Shabbat, lighting the Havdalah candle, the “kitchen raids,”and  the village cheers. I remember the tears at the end of a session – shared by campers and staff members – which reflect the emotion of separating from newfound friends and leaving a summer home.”

 Celebrating 110 years, enriching Jewish family life

Tamarack Camps welcome campers from 2nd grade to high school age. Located in scenic Ortonville in lower Michigan, Camp Maas is our residential summer program for children ages 7 to 14. For information and registration forms, please visit www.tamarackcamps.com.

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