If summer camp is on your radar and your child has (sniff) outgrown those early, clingy years, you may be contemplating sleep-away camp. But how do you know whether your child is ready?
We asked some camp experts.
"Typically children younger than 8 are not ready,'' says Gordie Kaplan, executive director for American Camp Association, Illinois. "Eight, 9, 10 is the usual starting age.''
Your child should be comfortable with, and look forward to, overnight stays at friends' and relatives' houses. "Can they make it through the night without calling you to pick them up?'' Kaplan asks.
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Whose idea was it? Kaplan says if your child requests sleep-away camp -- perhaps because a sibling or friends are going -- that's a good sign. If you're trying to persuade him or her to go, it might be too soon.
Does the sleep-away camp offer activities your child is interested in?
"Focus on your child's interests and whether the camp will fulfill them,'' says Bill Endres, chief operations officer of Kiddie Academy, a national camp and child care center provider. "Contact camps and ask them for materials about their programs, attend camp fairs to speak to camp representatives in person, and look at camps' Web sites to show your child pictures of the children and activities that are offered.''
For the first sleep-away experience, Endres says, it's probably wise to find a camp that's smaller, close to home and allows your child to communicate with you at some point via phone, e-mail or in person.
"Make sure the camp encourages the level of communication for your family's comfort level,'' he says.
But think twice about sending a cell phone, Kaplan urges, especially if the camp prohibits them.
"Now instead of relating to each other and having fun together, the kids are waiting in line to see who can use the one cell phone,'' Kaplan says. "When a camp says no cell phone, no Game Boys, no iPods -- you're here to have a different experience than you can have at home -- you don't need a cell phone.''
Finally, ask yourself whether you're ready to send your child away. "If the parent is really anxious, that's going to be communicated to the child,'' says Kaplan.