Three things every parent should consider when sending kids to summer camp

A parent’s guide to getting the most out of your child’s summer camp experience.

Camp is a quintessential American summer experience that kids and adults enjoy equally. Whether your camper is off to a multi-week overnight camp or a stay-at-home specialty day camp, opportunities for growth and learning are unmatched. There are countless opportunities to exercise independence and create valuable relationships that last. Authentic summer experiences are as important to a child’s growth and development as the classroom. As a parent, you can help your camper get the most out of their experience by helping them to reflect on the summer experience. Michigan State University Extension has three easy ways to engage in reflection with your child.

Keep a journal

A key indicator to intentionally building life skills is reflection. By keeping a camp journal, your camper will have a structured opportunity to think through events and activities of the day. Try sitting down before heading off to camp and coming up with probing questions to inspire topics to write about. One important developmental domain is positive identity. Use a probing question such as, “Today I felt confident when…” This encourages your camper to recall a time when they felt good or accomplished a challenging task.

Request a letter with a purpose

At sleep-away camps, a typical activity involves sending your camper a letter and hoping for one in return. For some kids, they are having too much fun to sit down with a paper and pen to send back a lengthy letter. When you write your letter and send your care package, include a self-addressed stamped envelope with a few smaller sheets of paper with purposeful questions. Find out about a time they took a healthy risk by asking, “What new activity did you try that you’ve never done before?”

You can also find out about their social comfort level at camp by asking, “Tell us the name of a new friends you made? Their favorite thing to do at home is…” You can gauge a lot about your campers’ experience and gain confidence they are growing as individuals while having a ton of fun.

Sit down and review photos, either on the camp blog or on their camera

Nowadays, most camps have blogs or photo sites where you can see the activities your camper does on a daily or weekly basis. While it may be fun to review the blog at the office, use it as an opportunity to connect with your child and their experience. They will be proud to tell you all the wonderful activities and new things they have learned at camp. Being a good listener and asking questions will give you a sense of their decision-making skills. Many activities are self-directed and give campers a chance to exhibit leadership skills. You’d be surprised at the stories you may hear. While a photo may appear like your camper purposely got dirty, it may have been an attempt to step up and lead the team to try something new like catching bugs in the pond or creating new designs in a tie-dyed t-shirt. Taking initiative at camp will spill over into school and home.

Camp is such a great opportunity for your child. If your child is signed up this summer, congratulations on making an excellent parenting decision. Camp will help them grow and develop on their journey to adulthood more than you realize.

For more resources on camps in your area or further information on the value of summer camps, visit the American Camp Association website. For more information about this article, contact Alan Jaros, education director at MSU Extension Tollgate Education Center, 28115 Meadowbrook Road, Novi, MI 48377, 248-347-0269,

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