What's the Best Age for Camp?

When are they old enough for overnight camp? What if they are hesitant to go?

You probably want a number here. If you’re only going to read these first two sentences, then I’ll pick the age of nine.

But the real answer is a bit more complex. When to start sending your child
 to sleep-away camp is a decision that depends on you, your parenting style, and your child’s temperament. Many kids have fun and successful camp experiences as young as six years old, but that’s too young for most kids. And for some parents the thought of their child ever going to camp (without them) is unimaginable. Sometimes “he’s not ready for camp” actually means you’re not ready. Realizing that your child can be okay without you is sometimes hard on parents and it’s a big step to let them have the independent experience of summer camp.

These are the guidelines for parents who are ready to send their child to camp but aren’t sure what age is best.

5 or younger

This is too young for overnight camp alone. Go to a family camp together or try a day camp. (You can find local day camps at MetroKids.com/DayCamp.)

6 to 8 years old

For young kids, focus on whether your child is ready. This is not the age to force camp upon a hesitant child.

If they want to go, there are some questions to ask: Is your child a fairly independent kid (not clingy) who can take a shower on his own? If your child happily goes to school and is fine at day camps and other activities without you constantly by his side, then he’s probably ready for camp.

9 to 10 years old

If she is excited to go, sign her up.

If not, talk with other families whose kids go to camp to expose her to the idea. Hearing how much other kids like camp might encourage her to want to go. Attend camp information sessions. (The MetroKids Super Camp Fair is Sunday, Jan. 26 at Plymouth Meeting Mall and is free to attend.)

If she is still hesitant, you have two choices.

The Hard Choice: Explain all the benefits of camp and how you think it will be great for her and an important step in her growth and development. Let her know you think it’s an important experience and you don’t want her to miss out.

This choice requires being able to stand your ground and not give in to whining. Sign up but don’t talk about it too much, too far in advance if your child is especially anxious.

The Easier Choice: Give your child a one-year “pass,” but follow through.

Know that kids who are hesitant about camp at 9 or 10 are likely to still be hesitant at 13 and possibly at 18 about going to college. Parents need to figure out how to work through those feelings and a week or two at camp is an easy way to start. It’s actually easier to start camp at 9 or 10 and work through those difficult homesick emotions without also contending with puberty.

11 and older

If they want to go, let them.

I’ve been at camp fairs where a mother with a child taller than she is tells me, in front of her child, “He’s way too young to be away from me for two weeks.” I look at the young person standing next to her and want to say, “He’s not too young. You just don’t want him to be away from you.”

An older child will likely not be the only first-year camper his age. There will be fewer new kids at camp at that age, but camp kids are welcoming, so don’t worry. I’ve met many families who waited until their child was 12 or 13 years old, only to later be disappointed that they had so few summers to enjoy at camp.

If they are still hesitant, keep in mind that the kids who tend to have the most extreme homesickness are the older ones who’ve never been away. If your child gets extreme homesickness, isn’t it better that it happen during a two-to-three- week summer program than when he’s a freshman in college?

Give your children the gift of early independence to help them develop the skills they need to thrive as young adults.

Audrey Monke, with her husband Steve, has owned and directed Gold Arrow Camp in Lakeshore, California for 30 years.

Categories: Camps & Classes