5 Things First-Time Summer Camp Parents Must Do

Posted on 3/16/18 9:00 AM by Matt Fish

The first day of spring is approaching fast, which means that summer is just around the corner. It’s a busy time of year for camp organizations, who are in the thick of registration season. For first-time camp parents, the process of selecting the right summer camp option can be tricky, but fear not: a helpful guide through the biggest do's and don'ts is here.

Discover 5 things first-time summer camp parents must do:

Summer Camp Fire

Camp annual tradition for many kids and parents, but for those who haven’t partaken in a program offered by an organization in either the United States and Canada, it can feel like an enormous amount of information to digest. With little to no knowledge about what goes on in the lead-up to the drop-off day, it's hard to know what to focus your energy on. 

That being said, here's a handy list of five things you should add to your summer camp registration to-do list before signups close for good:

Know That It’s Worth the Time (and Money)

If you’re on the fence as to whether summer camp is even the right move for your child, statistics and studies have shown that it’s an overwhelmingly positive experience for nearly all families who take the plunge. Let’s be honest - your child just sat through another year of school, which involved going through the same routine and, more than likely, sitting in the same place for a large part of nine months or more. When the summer rolls around, they deserve a break and means even leaving their domestic center for a little while as well.

Consider this: According to the American Camp Association, 96 percent of kids claimed that camp helped them make new friends and 92% said that people at their camp made them feel good about themselves. Parents echoed similar sentiments, with 70% stating that their child gained self-confidence because of going to camp. Further to that, 69% of parents noticed that, after camp was done for the summer, their child maintained contact with friends they had made while they were away. Both psychologically and emotionally, summer camps have enormous benefits on children that stay with them long-term.

American Camp Association Youth Outcomes Study


Make Sure Your Child is Ready for Camp

Just because you’re on board with the idea of sending your child away to summer camp doesn’t mean that he or she is ready to take that step. Are they the right age to take that leap? Similar to other aspects of their lives, every kid is a little bit different. Generally speaking, many kids begin attending day camps around the same age that they start kindergarten, but that number can be older or younger depending on their comfort level when it comes to being around others and being away from home. 

Overnight camps are a different story, with the youngest enrolled in those programs typically starting at age 8 or 9. All this being said, a good way to gauge readiness for summer camp when it comes to your child is to do research on the topic together – online at the very least and, if you can visit some of the camps that you both liked together, even better. It will go a long way to figuring out exactly what kind of camp is right for him or her.

Speaking of which … 

Registering Your Child for the Right Camp

It probably goes without saying, but every child has their strengths and weaknesses. They may be more or less athletic than other kids their age, or more artistically inclined and less interested in sports altogether. Whatever the case, maximizing your child’s summer camp experience is directly tied to choosing the right situation for them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should focus on niche camps and disregard options with a broader appeal either. Also, even if a camp seems to fit right in with your son or daughter’s interests or skill set, don’t blindly register him or her for a program without thoroughly looking into the organization first. The camp’s history, the level of training they give their staff, any accreditation from well-known regional governing bodies (such as the ACA in the U.S.) and, of course, word-of-mouth reviews should all factor into your final decision.


Accept that Things Will Get Emotional

If this is the first time you’re sending your little one to summer camp, whether it’s just for the day or a full-on overnight experience, it will be a big change for both you and your child. It will potentially be the first time he or she is away from home without parental accompaniment – a big step for both parties. As a parent, it’s natural to feel uneasy about the situation; however, it’s key not to project those reservations onto your child either.

The best way to release those emotions would be with another adult. If you have a partner, confide in them; if that’s not possible, try a friend, co-worker or even a neighbour. Remember that it’s okay to feel anxious or upset about the fact that your child will be spending significant time away from home, but those feelings shouldn’t impact how he or she will approach her summer camp experience.


Take Homesickness Seriously

If we’re talking about time spent away from home, the prospect of homesickness is something that, as a parent, you should take very seriously, especially if it will be their son or daughter’s first time enrolling in summer camp. It shouldn't stop you from signing your child up for a program, even of the overnight variety, but it’s an issue that any parent should be ready to deal with if and when those feelings are expressed.

According to a clinical report written by Dr. Chris Thurber, Dr. Edward Walton and the Council on School Health, “almost all children [experience] some degree of homesickness when they are apart from familiar people and environments.” They add that going to something like a summer camp if they’re not willing to do so could bring out some strong feelings of homesickness. “When parents force a young person to spend time away, that child or adolescent feels very little decision control,” the report states. “Consequently, he or she is more likely to feel homesick on separation.”

All that being said, promising to pick your child up if they feel homesick could ultimately backfire long-term, depending on the specific scenario. If you offer up that promise and don’t end up coming to their rescue, that trust your child has in you will take a major hit. Conversely, if you do cave and retrieve them from a summer camp before they’ve given it a fair chance, you could be helping them evade an important and completely natural part of the growing process.


Even though this is a hectic time for parents and children alike who are considering enrolling in a summer camp this year, being new to the whole process can feel especially overwhelming. However, if you do your due diligence and not only figure out what kind of camp is right for your child but, perhaps more importantly, if he or she is ready to take on that challenge, the process will be made far easier than if you undertook this big life step blindly.

Want more insight into what every parent should know before summer camp gets underway? Click the link below to read more details on our blog!