Am I Ready? What Parents Should Know About Overnight Camp

Article by Alyson Gondek, Co-Director of Camp Woodmont on Lookout Mountain

Your child is ready for camp, but the big question is….are you, the parent, ready?

Many parents never attended summer camp as a child, so feeling a little emotional tug before taking your child to camp is fairly typical.

Remember overnight camp provides a rich environment full of new friends, songs, achievements and memorable activities. It provides supportive relationships, challenging opportunities, but most important it gives all children a level playing field from the start. Camp is an important rite of passage where kids can explore, discover and just be themselves among their friends — without Mom or Dad tagging along.

Here’s what you can do to prepare yourself for your child’s first sleep-away:

Find out if the camp is accredited. Safety is usually the number one concern among all parents. If the camp you’ve chosen is accredited by the American Camp Association, you can rest assured it exceeds the highest standards in the industry. Certified lifeguards and instructors in all activities, along with safety helmets, harnesses and life jackets are essentials in providing a safe camp experience.

Next, get to know the camp’s staff.
But what about your child’s emotional safety at camp? Parents tend to be concerned about their child fitting in at camp and being well adjusted. How do you know who’s going to encourage your child to eat well? Who will make sure those teeth get brushed and shorts gets changed? What happens if your child “has an accident” at night?

While nice facilities and activities are important, they should not be the main factor in selecting the right camp for your child. The most significant factor in camping is the quality and character of the individuals who work with your children. Does your camp provide a bio of each counselor on its website? Find out how the camp recruits its staff and how many counselors return each year. What’s the staff training like? Check into the directors’ background. Make sure the director is more than an “administrator of paper,” but someone who’s working directly with the counselors, the activities and the campers. Being comfortable with who’s working with the campers’ gives parents’ peace of mind.

Next, check out the camp’s “sense of community.” Does the camp provide a close, family-like atmosphere? This is where the comfort factor comes into play. Eating as a “cabin family” three times a day in a society where families rarely eat together is comforting to children.

While sometimes it seems like kids are screaming for freedom and independence, children actually thrive on schedules and boundaries. Therefore, they gain great comfort in predictability, and camp is predictable. Knowing exactly what to expect makes a child feel safe and secure. And safe is good. That predictability and associated comfort that comes along with it is why children treasure traditions. Waking up to the camp bugle. Singing “taps” at night. Cabin skits. The pudding eating contest. Sleeping under the stars. All these traditions give kids joy and comfort. And that’s how the camp’s sense of community is defined.

Get to know the camp’s schedule. You’ll relax if you know exactly what your child is doing and when. It helps to look at the camp’s website to find out how the day is structured so you’ll know what’s going on. Also, many camps, including Camp Woodmont, post daily pictures and newsletters to give parents a sneak peek into their children’s day at camp.

Finally, know that deprivation is good, and it leads to appreciation. Home equals luxuries. At home, kids are rarely deprived so they rarely appreciate what they have … a warm shower, television, cell phones, junk food, and video games. At camp, kids sleep in bunks, wait their turns, cook out and wait for warm water in the shower. And when they get back to reality, they tend to appreciate Mom and Dad more, along with those little extras at home.

Memories from Veteran Counselor Jennifer S.

After finishing my 3rd year as a counselor at Camp Woodmont in 2007, I look back and cherish all the moments I’ve experienced. I came to camp initially because it was a good escape for me! The 2nd year was because I had fun the year before. I came the 3rd year because I saw camp as my home away from home! I now understand why so many campers return year after year! I accepted the position as the high ropes course supervisor because, well honestly, it sounded like fun! But this past summer was more than just having fun at the climbing wall…it was also about being a leader to campers and counselors.

Each summer I make a scrapbook of camp memories: from campouts to hikes to night activities to singing camp songs to just laughing and hanging out! I enjoyed every moment with my fellow counselors, AND with all the campers! We made the best of the weather, the bumps and bruises and the occasional misunderstandings.

I learned a lot about myself just by watching the kids! It made me appreciate the environment and values that Mr. and Mrs. B established at Camp Woodmont. More importantly, I feel honored to have been a part of that tradition. We counselors usually walk away from camp the same way the campers do: happy to go home, but sad to leave our new “family.” This was the most awesome summer I’ve had…EVER!!!