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Summer camp: Choosing the right one for your child

With summer vacation approaching, it is time to think about how your children are going to spend their days. Summer camp, attended by about 11 million children in North America, has been a popular option for children of all ages for over 150 years.

Benefits of summer camps

Summer camps bring a range of benefits to children.

  • They provide an opportunity for children to learn valuable social skills and make new friends.
  • They increase a child’s environmental awareness and exploration skills.
  • They help a child gain self-confidence and independence.
  • They help children develop leadership skills and learn about positive decision-making.
  • For children with learning disabilities or other medical conditions, they are a great place to meet and relate to others who have similar needs while having fun.

Despite the benefits of camp, the thought of sending your child away and putting them under someone else’s care may still seem daunting. Common questions from parents include, “Will my child like it?”, “Is it safe?”, “What if they get sick?”, “What if they get homesick?”. These can all make camp a hard activity to consider.

However, children benefit in many ways from spending time at camp. It is much easier than you may think to find a camp that both you and your child feel comfortable with. Research published in Pediatrics has shown that camps have a safety level the same or better than a lot of other activities parents would otherwise choose for their children.

Choosing a camp

To help you and your child choose the right camp, prepare for what is ahead and make sure your child has a fun and safe summer, take a look at these helpful hints and tips from the journal Pediatrics and the Canadian Camp Association.

Assess your child’s interests, skills and overall wellbeing

What kind of camp settings would your child be most comfortable in? Remember, there are camps for all types of interests and activities, such as arts and crafts, sports and languages. There are also religious and educational camps. Remember too that day camps can be good alternatives to residential camps. Look over the mission statements on the camp websites or handouts to learn what each camp is about.

Health and safety

Take a look at the pre-admission medical requirements and what kinds of health services the camp can offer.

Include your child in the process

Go over the videos and brochures with your child. Since they are the ones who will be attending, their opinion and interest in the camp is important. You may even want to set up an appointment to visit the camp with your child.

Be sure to select an accredited camp

An accredited camp meets additional standards for the running of the site, health and food services and more. These standards are set by each province’s camp association. You can get a list of accredited camps from the websites of the Canadian Camp Association and each provincial camp association.

If in doubt, contact the camp directly

If you have questions after reviewing the camp’s information, call the camp director.

Getting ready for camp

  • Make sure your child is up-to-date on their vaccinations.
  • Have a complete annual health review to give to the camp. This review should include information about any recent injuries or surgeries as well as any special needs that need specific medication or management, such as allergies, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes or ADHD.

How to minimize your child’s risk of homesickness

  • Talk about homesickness with your child, but be sure to express positive thoughts on how you think their time at camp will go.
  • Involve your child in preparing for camp.
  • If possible, have your child spend some time away from home before they leave for camp as practice. Maybe arrange a sleepover at a friend’s or relative’s house.
  • Compare the length of time your child will be at camp with examples of times they spent at a past experience they enjoyed.
  • Avoid telling your child that they can be picked up if they are homesick. Giving them this option before anything is wrong may undermine their confidence in trying to be independent.

If your child will be going to camp this summer, use these tips to help make the process go more smoothly for both of you. Best wishes for an enjoyable and safe summer!

Elizabeth Berger​, BA, MD, FRCPC, FAAP, MHPE

Further information

Council on School Health (2011). Creating Healthy Camp Experiences. Pediatrics, 127:794-799.

Canadian Camping Association​. Retrieved January 28, 2015.