Overnight Camp, Ready or Not?
Sometimes, it may seem like your child was just born, and in other times – they’re growing up so fast! Before you know it, your child has started to show signs of being ready for the next summer step. Overnight camp is the longest lasting, most beneficial experience parents can give their child. But how is a parent to know if their child is ready?

Part of my job is to work with families to help them know when the time is right and which camp is best for them. I’m happy to share how you know if your child is ready, how to look for the right camp and how to prepare your child for camp.
Where do You Begin?
Parents should ask themselves:
  • Is your child still raring to go when he or she gets home from day camp or school? If they’re looking for the “next activity” they may be ready for more.
  • Has your child successfully slept at relatives and ?friends’ houses?
  • Can your child do things on his or her own (or with some help from counselors), including:
  • Personal upkeep: getting dressed, brushing teeth and hair, showering and applying sunscreen.
  • Maintenance tasks like keeping clothes in a cubby and learning to make a bed.
  • Help out: most camps have work wheels in the cabins so kids can help keep the shared space neat.

Keep in mind that if you are starting your search early, a child has many months to grow before the summer and may become more ready and capable than they were at the start of your search. Many camps use age 7 as a starting point. A common age to begin at an overnight camp is when children are going into third or fourth grade, but timing and readiness is different for every child.
How to Find the Right Camp?
  • Focus your search by considering:
  • How long of a session would you like? Among the most popular are 2 weeks, 3-4 weeks or 7 weeks. Try to think about this for the first year and subsequent summers because some longer session camps will allow rookies to do a one-time, shorter session.
  • Coed or single gender?
  • What activities are a must?
  • More or less rustic?
  • Programming: more structured, all elective or a combination?
  • Any special food or religious needs?
  • Does the cost align with your budget?

  • Don’t necessarily choose a camp because a family friend, relative or neighbor goes, or a parent went there. It can definitely be a consideration but not a given. It can be nice to go together but only if it’s a good fit for your child, too.
  • It may seem intimidating, but many kids are heading to camp on their own and the staff quickly help campers get acclimated. It’s great that kids can be who they want to be and pursue interests at camp, which may be different than at home. It’s also nice to have “camp” friends, which may be different than “home” friends.

  • I like to involve kids in the decision process. When kids feel excited and comfortable, they will be eager to go. A good time to get them involved is once the parents create a short list.
  • Use a variety of camp resources to learn about different camps and create a short list.
  • Speak with directors to hear more about the camps. Parents can also ask directors for reference families.
  • After the initial phone call, if it’s for the coming summer, directors can FaceTime and/or do a home visit. If it’s for the following summer, families can choose to tour camps to see them firsthand while they’re in session.
Preparing for Camp
Once you’ve selected and enrolled, it’s time to get ready.
  • Camps will send a packing list of items needed, including:
  • Hard trunks or soft duffels.
  • Camp clothing from an outfitter (may be more or less depending on if it’s a uniform camp but even camps that aren’t uniform do require some specific clothes for trips out of camp.)
  • Linens, a sleeping bag, some sports equipment, flashlights, toiletries and water bottles.
  • It’s also fun to include items like playing cards and jacks for downtime in the cabin, as well as stationery with self-addressed stamped envelopes to ?write home.
  • Label everything.

  • Talk about camp a bit so your camper knows what to expect; however, be careful not to overwhelm with details since they’re still at home in their school life. You can let kids know they may miss you a little, but parents should act confident and not sad. Kids at camp will adjust and gain resilience, independence, confidence and so much more.
  • Parents and campers will communicate primarily through letters. Some camps also offer one-way email, a couple of scheduled phone calls and many may post pictures on a password-protected site.

  • Schedule doctor appointments to make sure immunizations are up to date and submit health and other camp forms.

So if you think your child is ready to unplug from technology, connect with nature and make lifelong friends, then they may be ready to experience all the benefits of overnight camping. Enjoy your summer adventure!

Laurie Kaiden is the Director and Campcierge™ of Maine Camp Experience, the community of 30+ premier overnight summer camps and comprehensive camp planning resource. Laurie is a mom of two Maine campers. She has also worked at camps teaching swimming and cheerleading, and enjoys spending time at Maine camps each summer.