Kids and Camp

Recent research with over 5,000 families from 80 camps found that campers experienced significant growth in 10 development areas, including values and decision making, leadership, friendship skills, and self-esteem. (Information from

According to the American Camp Association, there are more than 7,000 overnight and 5,000 day camps in the United States. Those numbers represent a lot of opportunities. So, how can a family decide if camp is right for their children? And once that decision is made, what’s the best way to pick a camp, especially if there are many options available? The information below can help you think about whether camp is right for your children and, if so, how to make the most of the experience.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Rarely will children this young be ready for camp. However, if your child expresses interest and has experience in child-care or other away-from-home situations, look for mini-camps that specialize in activities for young children.
    • Choose a camp that provides of good mix of activities, rather than specializing in one area.
    • Consider a “family” or intergenerational camp that you can attend with your children.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Seriously consider your children’s unique personalities and whether you think they are ready for camp.
    • Identify some possibilities and then let your children take the lead in finding camps that match their interests and abilities.
    • Look for camps that engage older children and teens as junior counselors. This will provide your children with positive role models, as well as something to strive for in the future.
    • Consider creating an “at-home” camp experience by inviting some neighborhood children to sleep out together in a tent with a couple of adults, or engaging several teenagers in putting together a short “day camp.”
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Help your children think about why they want to go to camp and what they want to get out of it. Then work with them to identify options and make their choices.
    • If your children really don’t want to go to camp, then don’t push the issue. Instead, look at alternatives such as youth development programs that are close to home and match your children’s interests.
    • Camp relationships are unique because young people are away from their families and most of their social circle. They are also spending much more time than usual with peers. Before they leave for camp, talk with your children about dating and friendships.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Encourage experienced campers to consider junior counselor or other leadership opportunities.
    • Talk with your teenagers about your expectations for their behavior at camp, including boundaries about alcohol and other drug use, dating and sexuality, and communication with you. Make sure they know, are prepared to abide by, and agree to the camp’s rules and procedures.
  • Give your teen complete responsibility for camp preparation, including saving money to share in some of the expenses and asking for help if they need it.

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