Six Tips for Making Summer Camp Worth It

By Christina Elston

summer camp

Learning new skills together helps kids make friends. Be sure to support those skills outside of camp. PHOTO COURTESY HERMOSA SURF CAMP

Summer, at last, is here. And if your kids will be spending all or part of it at camp, it’s worth your time to help them get the most they can from the experience. “Invest in whatever program you have signed your kids up for,” says Janna Hawes, director of admissions at Clairbourn School in San Gabriel.

With support from parents, campers can build new skills, make new friends and enjoy a break from the school routine.

Be positive and involved

Your attitude about camp can make all the difference in your child’s. That starts with how you prepare your kids for camp. “Prepare them for an independent experience, like the first day of school, but make sure they know it is fun,” says Jennie Crowley of Chef Eric’s Culinary Classroom in West Los Angeles. During their summer camps for ages 7-15, “There is no homework and no judging or grading,” Crowley says.

How your kids end each day is also important. “Every day at pick-up time, parents should be excited to hear about their child’s day,” says Candi Schreuders, senior director of operations in Southern California for Stratford Schools, which offer Camp Socrates for preschool through fifth grade. “Parents should be sure to give their full, undivided attention when listening to the child share his or her day. Look at your child while he or she shares and ask specific questions.” These might include, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or “Did you see or hear anything surprising?”

Take care of the basics

summer camp

Camp staff, including the staff pictured here from Destination Science, can often help pave the way to a great camp experience. PHOTO COURTESY DESTINATION SCIENCE

Good eating and proper rest also make a difference in your child’s camp day. “Just as adjusting to a school schedule after the summer, a parent needs to gradually adjust bedtime and wake routines to be sure their child is not forced into a quick change in sleeping habits,” says Jennifer Guza, regional director at Destination Science, with camps across Southern California. “Let the camper know what their schedule looks like and discuss it with them often.”

Taking time for balanced meals and drinking plenty of water keeps kids from getting cranky. “Nothing is better than keeping your child hydrated and fed to keep up their good mood,” says Crowley. “If they don’t eat before they come to camp, they are not in good moods and it affects them negatively – they get weak and faint.”

Be consistent

Yes, it’s summer. But your child will get more out of camp if she or he attends regularly. “Parents need to value the time,” says Hawes. The Clairbourn program is designed as a four-week experience, and campers miss out if they’re not there because they can’t participate in planned activities. “For instance, if you’re missing ceramics every few days, you’re not going to get the same productivity,” she says.

Sticking to a routine can also help campers’ sleep habits, just as it does during the school year. And it can help younger campers who have separation anxiety and trouble adjusting to camp. “The consistency is what brings the security,” says Hawes.

Regular attendance at camp also helps friendships form, according to Ali Guerrero, assistant director of Camp Funtime at Westmark School in Encino. “Campers that continuously come on the same days each week will start to see the same faces and start to build new friendships,” she says. “Part of coming to camp is building new relationships with other campers that for many become lifelong friends.”

Help your kids maintain new friendships

summer camp

Fuel your camper up with good food and plenty of rest at home so she or he has plenty of energy for camp activities. PHOTO COURTESY STRATFORD SCHOOLS

Sending your child to camp with food, drinks or games to share – as long as that is OK with camp counselors – is another way to help kids build friendships, says Vince Ray of Hermosa Surf Camp, which offers camps for ages 7-17. “Ride sharing is a also a good way to promote friendships,” he says.

You can even get kids together for play dates and activities outside of camp. “Cook and bake together and maybe swim or go to the beach together,” suggests Crowley. “Most [campers] are going to live in the same general area, and it is usually easy to continue friendships.”

Camp staff can help parents make connections. “For younger children, parents might enlist the help of the teachers to identify their child’s playmate and ask if they would share their information with the other family,” says Schreuders.

Support your camper’s new skills

Along with new friends, most campers gain new skills over the summer. This is a chance for your child to try activities and find out whether they like them – without the expense of a longer-term commitment. “We like to encourage that sense of trying and discovery,” says Hawes, adding that Clairbourn campers often create science experiments or art during the day. “They get to take that home, and that’s a nice talking point.”

Guza agrees that campers generally come home excited. “We hope that parents can set aside a bit of time to discuss the day’s events with their child,” she says. “This discussion will build the camper’s confidence in what was learned and help to solidify the concepts. We often hear stories that the child will re-teach their younger siblings what was learned at camp that day. There is no better way to understand something better than to teach it!”

summer camp

Be consistent with your camper’s attendance so he or she doesn’t miss out on fun camp activities. PHOTO COURTESY CLAIRBOURN SCHOOL

Remember that when kids master a difficult-to-learn skill, such as surfing, they build confidence and self-esteem, says Ray. So it’s worth taking the time to acknowledge and support your child’s explorations.

Some skills, such as cooking, you can even practice at home. “Just keep it up and encourage them and tell them practice makes perfect,” says Crowley. “Also, you have to keep it up. I’ve heard from so many kids that their parents are the ones that don’t want to cook. Get in the kitchen with your kids.”

If your camper has taken up something you’re not familiar with – such as computer coding or filmmaking – ask them to teach you. “This will reinforce their learning,” Schreuders says. You can also ask staff at your child’s camp program for information and ideas to help support your child’s learning at home.

Troubleshoot problems quickly

If you find things aren’t going well at camp, jump in right away and enlist the aid of staff to sort things out. “Sometimes, starting camp for the first time or a new camp can take time for campers to get adjusted to,” says Guerrero. “Parents can help by staying in the know with what is going on during the week at camp and by communicating with their child’s counselors.”

They are the best people to help you get to the root of the issue. “It may be simpler than anyone realizes,” says Guza. “The most common reasons a camper isn’t having the amazing time they should are hunger, feeling outcast and missing their parents. Adjustments to the amount of food packed, a teacher introducing them to a new friend or a note from home in a lunch box can often solve these issues.”

By staying on top of things and staying involved, you can ensure that the tuition you paid for summer camp is money well spent – and that your child will look forward to next summer’s camp all through the school year.

Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.

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