Overnight Success: Find the Right Camp for Your Child

Sending your child to an overnight camp isn’t just a financial investment, it’s an investment in your kid’s happiness, so the right fit is essential.

So how do you know if your child will be okay away from home for a week or longer? According to Ron Levin, director of the Chicago JCC’s Camp Chi in Lake Delton, Wisc., every child is different, so Levin likes to address specific concerns individually. However, he says there are a few general things that parents should consider when deciding if a child will thrive at overnight camp.

“First, we talk to parents about their concerns so we can address them,” Levin says.  “If a child likes to participate in activities, likes being around other kids and is social, feels comfortable sleeping over at friends’ houses and has had positive experiences in day camp or at school, then overnight camp is likely a good choice.”

Levin also recommends a few things for parents to consider when selecting a camp, including a good safety record, accreditation by the American Camping Association (ACA, acacamps.org), a good camper-to-counselor ratio, a range of facilities that appeals to your kid, and open and effective communication with parents.

“If parents are worried about their child, they can call us for checks-ins or we can call them with updates,” adds Levin.

At McGaw YMCA’s Camp Echo in Fremont, Mich., also ACA-accredited, campers’ photos are uploaded nightly onto a website where parents can see what their kids were up to that day.

One of the key issues parents need to address is “readiness” for camp, says Rob Grierson, who has been affiliated with Camp Echo since 1977 and has served as its director since 2001. To gauge how a young camper will adapt to overnight camp, he uses a checklist from Bob Ditter, a prominent child psychologist who works with camps through the ACA.

Click below to download the checklist.

“The checklist is not a scorecard, where a certain number of yes answers means ‘ready for camp,’ however, lots of no answers may be an indication that the child is not ready,” Grierson says. “It’s to get parents and children thinking about what it’s like to be at camp, away from home and school, with a different support structure than they are used to.”

As for the selection process, Grierson recommends harnessing the power of the web to make a collaborative choice: “Every camp these days has a website with pictures. I think parents should pre-screen several camps, then sit with their children and look at the various camp websites that meet with the parents’ approval.”

While both camps Chi and Echo offer a broad range of traditional camping activities, such as swimming, horseback riding, etc., there are also overnight camps designed for specific interests, such as Camp Jam, a music-centric overnight camp that has locations nationwide, including Lake Forest Academy. Camp Jam president Dan Lipson also recommends using the web to help choose the right camp, and says that Camp Jam posts a thorough curriculum on its site to help guide parents. He also encourages parents to call with specific questions.

“It’s very important for overnight music camps to be specific about the experience and the camper’s skills necessary for the best fit,” says Lipson. “Kids need to look for the music program that offers a well-rounded curriculum for their age group. It’s about having fun, learning your craft and meeting other kids with the same passion.”