Summer Camp – A child’s ultimate summer experience

By Sherry Duncan

Summer is a great time to explore the Alberta outdoors.  As a child, I spent a part of each summer away at summer camp.  Girl Guides’ campouts were always a hit.  We camped at the group camping spot at the local Provincial Park.  Surrounded by trees, it felt like we were miles away from humanity – even through trailers and families were just across the road.  Each day was a new “fun” activity including crafts, games and adventures which were all carefully planned.

I wanted my children to have the same summer memories so I encouraged them to each attend a summer camp.  This summer will be the last summer camp adventure for my youngest.  She will be a senior at the camp she has gone to for 6 years.  Some of the same teens are there year after year and she has developed some wonderful friendships with the counselors – who are now much closer to her age than when she was 11.

Here are some things to think about to help you decide if this is the right choice for your child.

Has your child ever spent a night or two away from you?  If so, then a stay over camp might be a possibility.  There are camps that range from a few days to a few weeks.  My children started staying at camps when they were 8 years old.  For the first time away, I stayed in our family trailer in a campground on the other side of the lake – just to be sure things were going to be fine – and they were.  To prepare your kids to be away perhaps you could have them spend a night away from your house with a trusted friend.

Find a camp that suits your child’s interests.  There are camps ranging from soccer to hockey, dance to drama, robots to science.  Find a camp that will focus on your child’s interests.  Of course there is always that camps that focus on outdoor skills and traditional camp activities/games.

Do some research.  Ask your friends if they have any ideas or go online and search for camps for kids in Alberta.  If you go to a particular church, check the bulletin boards because some denominations have a connection to a summer camp sponsored by that faith. As you are searching for the perfect camp for your child here are some suggestions to ask to help you decide if this is right for you or not. Phone ahead and ask questions about the adults who supervise the children; do they have first aid, are they University students, do they have a clear criminal record check (with the vulnerable sector – that’s the part that says they can work with children), how many supervisors will there be, is there a medical person on site, will the kids be going in water if so are there life jackets, what is their approach when a child misses home and of course – how much does it cost? These questions will help you to decide if this is the right place for your child.

There are many benefits to the “camp” experience for your children.  They learn to take safe risks and make decisions on their own.  They meet new people from all over and have new experiences in a safe environment.    Some preplanning is helpful.  Talk to your children about the camp experience beforehand.  Have them speak to a babysitter or cousin who they know and has a positive camp experience to share.  This might also be helpful.

Tips for dropping your child off.  Plan to stay long enough that your child has seen where they will sleep, met their camp counselor and has had a look around at the activities available.  At the camp where my kids have gone, there is a climbing wall, a craft studio, a beautiful swimming/boating area and comfortable dorms.   Help them to choose their bunk (if there is a choice) and provide lots of positive feedback.  “This looks like it is going to be so much fun” and “I wish I could stay too” will help alleviate some of the jitters.  A reassuring “I love you and will pick you up in 3 days” is a good idea.  If your child is teary when you leave, a counselor can be helpful to reassure them and get them involved in something away from your departure.  I suggest that you don’t linger too long as this can make it harder for the child to separate.  As a child gets older it can be embarrassing to have your parent overly emotional/clingy when saying good bye or hello!   Typically by the time you are 15 minutes down the road, your child will have started a new activity and begin to feel more confident as the day wears on.

If an overnight camp seems too daunting or your child is too young you might consider local day camps.  Here in Fort McMurray there are day camps being run by a couple of different organizations.  I won’t list them here because I am afraid I will miss one – but a quick internet search or perhaps peruse threw the paper and you will find what is available locally.  This might be a great place to start.  If you search and then find Alberta, you will see a number of suggestions for summer camps available in Alberta.

Cost can also be a factor in sending your child to camp.  Some camps have an application process that you can go through to have your child sponsored.  The day camps can be a little pricey depending on who is organizing it and what types of activities are involved.  Typically, well worth the investment!

Did you know that there are also summer retreats for adults.  I have not gone myself, but I am aware of others who have attended 3 or 4 day retreats for quilting, scrapbooking, trail riding and personal wellness.  Leave the children at home and you get away to a mom or dad camp for a well deserved rest.

Final thoughts – trust your instincts when it comes to putting your kids in a camp whether for a day or a week.  Thankfully, my kids have all had very positive experiences at camp and many great summer memories as a result.  Please feel free to e-mail me through this newspaper if you would like to know the camps that I have sent my kids to and would recommend.   Happy Summer!

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