Should Kids Attend Camp with Friends?
The pros and cons of sending your kids to camp with friends.
If conventional wisdom is right and there truly is strength in numbers, sending children to camp with a friend (or more) from home should be the best strategy for summer socialization success. But that plan can backfire, causing friction among existing friends or depriving campers of the chance to make new ones. Carlos Charriez, summer camp director of Delaware’s Wilmington Friends School Day Camp, highlights the pros and cons of this approach.
“Attending camp with home friends allows campers the comfort of knowing someone from the moment they arrive, which can help reduce the anxiety that comes with new experiences,” he says. “On the other hand, these campers might not venture out to make new friends. The best part of my job is witnessing the progression of a shy camper who meets people through shared experiences and finds a best friend by the end of the week.”
When deciding whether to sign up with a buddy, parents should realistically assess their child’s social skills and discuss concerns with the camp director, says Michael Chauveau, executive director of the Pennsylvania and Delaware regional American Camp Association (ACA) office. “Parents know their kids best, but camp directors are experienced in helping first-time campers adjust, with or without friends from home.”
In fact, many camp professionals believe that children reap the most benefits of a summer camp experience when they go it alone, particularly at overnight camps. “Independence is one of the positive outcomes of camp that ACA research shows both parents and children value most, but it’s hard to develop independence when you’ve got friends from home to fall back on,” says Chauveau.
“Parents should encourage their children to try camp alone, so long as they have done the proper research about the camps they are vetting,” adds Charriez. “For example, they should find out how the staff is trained to facilitate friendships, with a special focus on children who are shy, nervous or quiet.”
At Wilmington Friends, for example, counselor training is driven and regularly evaluated by the camp’s three goals: “Everyone belongs. Everyone can be successful. Everyone can make a friend.”
Counselors facilitate friendships
After campers check in on their first day at Camp Dark Waters, a Quaker-based residential camp for kids ages 7-14 in Medford, NJ, they meet in a central gathering area, where counselors help them meet other kids and play games to get comfortable. By the time they get to the campfire that evening, even new campers have typically started to build personal connections.
At Camp Anglewood, a day camp in Elkins Park, PA that has served children ages 4-12 since 1952, new campers are helped to feel like they belong on their very first day, says second-generation owner and director Joyce Nejman Hill: “It’s easier if new campers know other children, but our staff is like family, and we all work to introduce children to others throughout the day. Campers’ first impression is the most important. If they have a ton of fun on day one, it just gets better in the weeks that follow.”
And the years that follow. “We have a large percentage of returning campers each summer, so campers form strong bonds of friendship and look forward to seeing their ‘summer camp family’ when they return each year,” says Hill. “Camp creates friendships that last a lifetime.”
“Whether attending summer camp with a friend or by yourself, the important thing is to be open to new experiences and new friendships,” concludes Charriez. “The best summer camps challenge campers to go beyond their comfort zones to gain as much as they can during the short amount of time we have together.”
Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association (ACA) Keystone Field Office serving Pennsylvania and Delaware. Learn more at Campparents.org.