How to Know your Child is Ready for Summer Camp

summer camp counselor and two young campers

How do you know your child will do well with her first overnight camp experience? This question of readiness is a common concern among parents, and it’s entirely understandable. Naturally, you want your child to thrive at camp, forging new friendships, exploring new activities, and having a great time in the outdoors. But the transition to camp life, filled with unfamiliar experiences and expectations, can also be challenging. 

A child’s success at camp hinges on their ability to confront and manage the various challenges inherent in being away from their parents. Thus, it’s crucial to understand that being old enough for camp is not the same as being ready for it. Children mature at different rates, and various aspects of their personality develop at distinct stages.

Rather than focusing on age, it’s more appropriate to ask whether a child possesses specific skills and capabilities.

While it’s unlikely for any child to embody all these attributes perfectly, here’s a list of skills and traits that predict a child’s readiness for an overnight summer camp experience.

Key Readiness Skills for Overnight Camp

girl shooting archery at summer camp

Be comfortable sleeping away from home
We often describe camp as a long sleepover.  You want to be sure that your child enjoys sleeping at a friends’ or relative’s house, away from parents. Is she happy to dive into the situation or is she wishing she could be picked up early? Is she confident enough to be on her own for a good period of time?

Be comfortable in social situations
Camp life involves limited time for being alone. Campers need to be able to join group activities, and desire the company of others. Does you camper naturally gravitate toward making friends?

Be excited about going to camp for the length of the session
We think it is important for the decision to come to camp to be largely the camper’s. After learning about camp (from the website, taking a tour, or talking to previous campers), does she genuinely want to be at camp for that length of time? Is she more excited about camp than you are?

Communicate needs to adults
If a camper has a question or needs something, or is experiencing a twinge of homesickness for example, she should feel empowered to seek out help from an adult. She should be confident to speak up. Does your camper communicate with adults easily?

Conflict resolution with peers
Living in a cabin with multiple campers for several weeks is bound to yield moments of conflict. Campers should be willing and capable of calmly discussing issues or differences of opinion with their peers, both with and without adult intervention.  How does your camper handle peer conflict?

Regulate emotions
Not every moment at camp is pure fun. There are times when a spider might be in the shower, or another child gets the lead in the skit, or the canoe trip gets rained out. A child should to be able to handle setbacks reasonably well. How does your child react when things don’t go their way?

young summer camp horse girl

Walk around steep, uneven terrain
Rockbrook is located on a hillside that rolls down towards the French Broad river.  Everyday at camp, campers must do a lot of walking up and down the hill and maneuvering trails with rocks and roots. Is your camper physically fit for the camp’s terrain?

Sharing the spotlight
At camp, children have to share the attention of the counselor with others and sometimes take turns in games or during group events.  Can your child be patient while awaiting their turn?

Quiet self-entertainment during Rest Hour
Campers spend an hour after lunch quietly in their bunks, engaging in activities like reading, writing letters, or resting. Can your child entertain themselves quietly without technology or the attention of others for an hour?

Fall asleep easily at night
Sleeping in a rustic cabin with others can take some adjustment. But campers need to be able to fall asleep without external supports (special lighting, noisemakers, or another person soothing them). Does your camper have trouble sleeping? Will sleeping in a group cabin make falling asleep too difficult?

Follow a bell schedule
At Rockbrook, the bell rings throughout the day to let everyone know when to change activities.  Campers need to be able to wake up on time and, throughout the day, switch to the next activity without frequent reminders. Can your camper follow a schedule, and transition well from one activity to the next?

young summer camp girl crafting needlepoint

Navigate around camp to various activities
We give each child the opportunity to create their own daily activity schedule.  So, they may go to some places independently of their cabin-mates.  We make sure each child knows where to go, but they need to feel ready to make their way around camp, with or without friends, depending on the situation. Can your camper find her way from place to place?

Eat a variety of foods
We enjoy a great variety of foods at camp and provide options at each meal in case the main meal is not preferred.  We do encourage all children to try what is served and work to find something they will eat.  While we can offer options for dietary requirements, such as allergies, we cannot personalize every meal. Is your camper a picky eater? Is she open to trying new foods?

Personal Hygiene
At Rockbrook, campers decide for themselves when they would like to shower (ordinarily during one of the three free periods each day) and brush their hair and teeth. Can your camper manager her personal hygiene independently?

Participate in cabin chores
Each morning, all campers make their own beds and are in charge of one cabin chore.  Campers also sort their laundry and bring it once a week to a pick up location to be washed. Will your camper be able to make her bed and share in cabin chores?

Responsibility for personal belongings
Living in a group setting with limited space requires each camper to keep track of their own belongings.  As they move around camp, it is easy to misplace things (e.g., water bottles and sweatshirts). Our lost and found area can sometimes be quite full! Can your child manage their personal items effectively?

Nobody's Perfect

It’s important to note that these skills and traits vary among campers, and rarely does a camper exhibit all of them perfectly from day one. After all, camp is a place to develop these skills.  That’s why our counselors and camp staff are always available to offer support and assistance. These markers serve as general indicators for camp success and building blocks for navigating the challenges of camp life. The more of these skills a child confidently possesses, the more likely their transition into camp life will be smooth.

Consider these aspects as areas for growth, and as skills that can be honed before camp. If there are areas where your child can improve, take a little time to practice these skills. It could make a big difference when she arrives at camp.

If lingering doubts persist regarding your child’s readiness for camp, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. One of our directors will gladly discuss your concerns.