Your Guide to Overnight Camp

Sending your child away to camp may seem monumental if you've never done it - never mind the homesickness and food preferences, who will pick up his socks? But letting go and giving your child the chance to function independently of you is an excellent opportunity that will serve everybody well down the road.

Overnight CampCatherine Ross, an executive member and communications officer for the CCA, owned and directed a girls’ camp for 20 years and has written five books on the topic of summer camps and camping. She says a lot of good can come from encouraging kids who are ready for camp to try something new.

“Kids who go to camp end up being very good peers later on in life because they learn to share and compromise,” says Ross. “At camp, everyone has to do their part from tidying the cabin to setting the table — even paddling a canoe is a two-person job that requires collaboration and communication. There’s a constant message of working together and living together that they might not experience at home if they come from a small family.”

The bulk of overnight camps have a heavy focus on outdoor activities, including water and land sports, camping skills and creative arts. But some specialized camps (which house campers in vacant university dorms, for instance) will devote the majority of the day to a specific activity (like tennis or learning a second language) and supplement the program with games and other downtime activities.

Ross says the most common concern parents have about sending their children away to camp pertains to homesickness. “But they can save themselves the worry because it rarely persists,” says Ross, who claims that in her 20 years as a camp director she only saw one camper go home early. In fact, Ross suggests not bringing up the issue of homesickness unless your child initiates it. “Instead, focus on finding the best possible camp to suit your child’s personality and interests and work on preparing her for what to expect once she arrives at camp.”

The Lowdown On Overnight Camp

• Campers sign up for one- to two-week sessions, though some will stay even longer. Certain camps accommodate campers as young as 5 or 6, though most range from about 7 to 16.

• Costs can vary significantly, from around $400 to 1,000 a week, depending on facilities, equipment, programming, etc. Accommodations also vary, but shared cabins with bunk beds, tents or teepees are most common.

• Counsellor-to-camper ratios can range from 1:1 (for special needs) to 1:10, depending on campers’ ages. Virtually all counsellors are trained in emergency first aid, and a 24-hour on-site medical centre (staffed with either a nurse, doctor or both) is usually par for the course. Food restrictions and allergies are often accommodated, but it’s essential to confirm this with any given camp.

• Visit the CCA’s website for a link to provincial camping associations that list accredited camps.

What Overnight Campers Have to Say

“I liked the away-from-home part best. I started going for one week, and I now go for two weeks each summer. But I still find the first day a bit difficult because you are meeting campers and counsellors for the first time.” – Madi, 13, attended YMCA Camp Chief Hector in Exshaw, Alta.

“I liked feeling older and more independent because I didn’t have my parents watching over me. It was also fun to do activities like archery, rock climbing and riding horses that I don’t get a chance to do at home because at camp there are lots of other kids to do them with.” – Jennifer, 12, attended Mount Traber Bible Camp in Cooks Brook, N.S.

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