Children spend the whole school year counting down the days till summer when they'll be free from homework and able to meet new friends -- sometimes at summer camp.
How camp is good for kids
"The camp experience can be one of the most profound experiences a child can have for a variety of reasons," said Pat McNally, Kansas State University Research and Extension 4-H youth development department head. "It's a viable way of letting the child become who they want to be."
According to a recent study by the American Camp Association, children who attend camp become more willing to try new things, grow more independent, develop social skills, become more confident and gain a sense of self-worth.
While most children are excited about going to camp, some can be nervous or scared, especially if it is their first experience with being away from home for some time, McNally said. Young children may benefit from attending a day camp before they're ready to spend the night away from home.
"If a child is nervous about spending a few nights away from home, parents also can help ease his or her worries by taking a weekend road trip to tour the camp," McNally said. "This allows them to become familiar with the territory and can give them a chance to see how much other kids are enjoying it."
It's important to let the child know that "missing home" is normal. To ease the separation, McNally suggested making plans to keep in touch.
The camp prep process
Before camp, it can be beneficial to practice short stays away from home such as spending the night with a friend or a weekend with grandparents, she said.
To prepare a child for camp, parents can include him or her in the decision process of choosing a camp and share their own childhood camp experiences, McNally said. Tell the child about the fun activities he or she will get to participate in and about the new friends they'll make, also.
Checklists for camp
After choosing a camp, parents should ask if the camp has a checklist of items that campers need to bring and whether campers will need to bring money for snacks or souvenirs, said Beth Hecht, K-State Research and Extension 4-H youth development agent in Leavenworth County, Kansas.
Parents should help their child pack to make sure nothing is forgotten. Hecht also suggested placing money in an envelope with the child's name and camp group on it. Parents can ask the group's counselor to hold onto the money until their child needs it.
Candy is often a popular item for kids to bring and share with their friends at camp, she said. But, valuable items such as MP3 players, phones or jewelry should be left at home so they're not stolen or broken.
"The camp experience provides a package of learning opportunities, including learning how to live with others, share space and cooperate," Hecht said. "Children develop more independence and learn new skills, but in a safe environment with a responsible counselor. It's like a small-scale college life."
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