Summer camp can be a great experience for kids of all ages. Having been a part of camp ministry for almost 20 years, I know that when the weather turns warm, people start thinking about sending their kids to camp. At the very same time, it is when many parents get cold feet, unsure if their child is ready for an experience like summer camp.
One of the main reasons parents end up canceling their child's registration for camp is that their child doesn't have anyone to go with them. It might have been a friend or a sibling that was initially planning to go, but for whatever reason has decided not to. The parents are left with a tough decision; is their child ready to experience camp without their friend or sibling.
Canceling the child is not always the best answer. For many parents, they don't know how to know if their child will be able to handle the "pressure." But in this scenario, I wouldn't just look at the child. There is much to be investigated about the camp they might attend as well. If it was my child going to a camp alone, here are four questions I would want answered. As well, I answered each one on behalf of Pine Cove, to give you a reference point.
1. What is the camp's policy on the number of friends that can "group up" together in the same cabin? If the camp doesn't have a policy about this, then I would be concerned. Your son or daughter could end up being the odd ball out, stuck in a cabin of best buddies from home. Many fearful parents picture this scenario concerning their child.
At Pine Cove, the maximum number of friends in a group is 4 out of the cabin of 8 campers. This is a policy we don't bend on. Although some parents wish we were more flexible, we are looking out for each individual camper.
2. How many campers come to camp without a friend? Every camp is different. What could be the norm at some camps might be abnormal somewhere else. Find out the general culture of the camp in question. Is there a long-standing tradition of groups coming together that you might be unaware of?
At Pine Cove, roughly 50% of the campers come alone. This number surprises many people. But yes, roughly half the campers at Pine Cove aren't there with a friend or sibling.
3. What is the staff to camper ratio? This is important. Kids can be mean. Finding out how much "security" is in place is essential. If there are 20 campers to each counselor, the camp is significantly under-staffed. You want to get a general feel for the amount of guidance in place at the camp.
At Pine Cove, each camp has roughly a 1 staff person to every 3 campers ratio. There are leadership systems in place as well, to provide wisdom and experience for the newer counselors.
4. What is the program design for the start of camp? All kids get a little nervy at the beginning of a week of camp. I would want to know what the camp is doing about that. What does opening day look like, including after the parents leave? Good camps will have thought through their opening day program well, to make sure it is helping the kids get settled in for a great week.
At Pine Cove, this all begins when people drive into camp. Our staff are going crazy, clapping and screaming to welcome each camper. However, most parents don't know the rest of that first day is just as strategic as the opening cheering. There a "mixer games," to help each camper in the cabin get to know the others. At the opening club session that first night, the talk is more of a light-hearted type message. You'd be surprised how much a well-choreographed opening day program can make kids feel right at home quickly.
I highly encourage parents to let their campers go to camp alone. After all, it is at camp that many of these kids make a friend for life. If they always had the safety of a friend with them, they would not venture out to meet new people.
And finally, I would tell you, as parents, that most of the time the kids are fine. It is the parents who struggle. I've had to ask parents to leave on opening day numerous times, because they were getting teary-eyed. Their child was already off having a great time, yet they were still unsure. Go home, parents. Let your child have the best week of their entire year.