Kayaks, bonfires, and ghost stories: summer camp is multisensory, multipurpose

For many kids, summer camp is as much a tradition as fireworks on the 4th of July. While the summer camp portrayed in oh-so-many movies remains popular, parents can find camping experiences themed around nature, art, dance, music, sports, STEM, computers, horseback riding, foreign languages, and more.

Whatever the choice, camp offers more than great memories. A fun article by Jamie Demetry, titled “The Benefits of Summer Camp,” appearing this month in ParentingNH (New Hampshire) online, notes that “Summer camp is among the most rewarding experiences parents can give to their children. Amid all the fun of daily activities, camp also helps children develop attitudes that build character and promote leadership. These are just a few of the many benefits of summer camp.”

The article further suggests that summer camp can build skills, encourage stepping outside comfort zones, promote physical activity, develop confidence and independence foster friendships, and get kids to unplug from technology for awhile—unless of course, it’s a technology camp!

Residential camp, popularly termed sleepaway camp, is also often kids’ first extended experience apart from Mom and Dad. Jennifer Bush, author of “Preparing for Sleepaway Camp” for Parents magazine online, quoted Connie Coutellier, director of professional development for the American Camping Association in Martinsville, IN: "Camp is a very intense experience because it's 24 hours a day away from home," she says. "That's exciting, but it's different from going to school and coming home. It's making new friends and having a new daily routine."

Coutellier recommends discussing the upcoming experience “by fielding your kid's concerns and highlighting their strengths.”

As with most things, not every camp is right for every child, or for all kids of a particular age. Of the overall summer camp experience, Barbara Rowley, in “How to Pick the Right Summer Camp for Kids,” writes that “it’s much more than s’mores and sing-alongs.” She cites Peg Smith, now-retired chief executive officer of the American Camp Association, who says, “Kids have to learn how to separate from their families and become resilient and independent. Camp gives them a safe way to take these steps.

However, not all kids are ready for sleepaway camp. For them, Smith says day camps can be a good start. She notes, "Kids learn about being part of a community and to cope with temporary separation," adding that day camps are “not only a good transitional step for kids but also for parents, who often need to learn these same separation skills."

Going off to camp definitely requires some planning and preparation to create the best experience possible. Alesandra Dubin, a Today contributor, wrote “7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Sending Kids to Sleepaway Camp,” offering tips from “seasoned moms and camp staffers.” They include: packing light, not obsessing (fretting), packing and labeling clothing in 2-gallon freezer bags, remembering there is an adjustment phase for kids, and not panicking—even if your child begs you to come get them. Dubin’s article also encourages parents to use kids’ time at camp for some of their own R&R.

It’s also a good idea to walk kids through what to expect, whether it’s using a flashlight in total darkness, adjusting to night-time sounds—even silence if you reside in town--or sharing living quarters with one or more kids they’ve never met.

For little ones who aren’t quite ready to leave home for an extended period, yet feeling envious of older siblings who are packing their bags, consider creating a mini late-night “camp” experience that also builds reading readiness and problem-solving skills by pulling out Bedtime Alphabet Night-Time Learning Interactive Flash Cards.They can be especially valuable for preschoolers who are afraid of the dark. Use the handy, mini flashlight included in the package to shine light through the clever cutouts, and watch uppercase letters and shapes dance on floors, walls, and ceilings. It’s a fun twist on traditional shadow play. By day, use the cutouts as stencils to encourage drawing and writing activities, or flip the cards over to reveal pieces to six different puzzles.

Sleepaway camp, day camp, or pretend camp all have their time and place in preparing kids for even bigger adventures!