Sleepover camp – it’s all about bunking with friends, campfires, nature, activities and fun, but is your 6-year-old ready? When it comes to sending very young children away from home for a week or two, homesickness might not, in fact, be his or her biggest challenge. It might just take a backseat to the difficulties involved in the simple everyday tasks of showering, brushing teeth, and getting dressed.
I spoke to senior staff from three camps that accept kids as young as 6 to find out what the biggest challenges are for this age group.
Steve Townley of Frontier Lodge Christian Youth Camp says the hardest thing for kids is taking care of themselves, specifically when it comes to personal hygiene. “We had one kid who had a really bad body odour so we asked him if he had been showering,” he said. “It turns out he wasn’t able to reach the tap to turn on the water.”
To deal with hygiene issues, counsellors throw shower parties, where the campers would all get into their bathing suits, hop into the shower and all get clean together.
Townley said he and his counsellors go over these issues with parents before they leave their children at the camp. Is your child accustomed to taking a shower? Would they be able to avoid getting soap in their eyes?
He also said that they accept the younger age group for a maximum of two weeks because after that, they get worn out and tired, and that’s when they really start to miss home. “If they’re ready for camp and if the parents address it the right way and prepare them properly, they will be alright.”
Kristen Fulton of Camp Kandalore says young campers also can be shy about asking for help when they need it. “At this age they [campers] are pretty comfortable doing what is asked of them, but do not always know how to ask for something they need.”
With regard to homesickness, Fulton says they encourage young campers to write home if they are missing mom and dad. Often, by the time the parents receive the letter; the child has already adjusted to camp and is having a great time. “We certainly see more of it [homesickness] with our younger campers but kids can miss home at any age.”
She says the best way for parents to equip their children for camp is to avoid talking about what they will miss while at camp or saying things like: ‘I will be so sad without you.’”
Maya Willis from Camp Wilvaken said counsellors who work with children in this age group need to be sensitive to their needs and must help children take care of themselves so they still have plenty of time to have fun. “The counsellors must be very patient; be more like a parent, constantly reminding the kids what to wear, what to do next and just be there for them all the time.”
Send some comforts from home
by Malia Jacobson
They call it sleepover camp, but the children toting their sleeping bags to camp this summer might not do much sleeping. For many children, overnight camp is the first time they’ve slept away from their family for more than a night or two. Add an unfamiliar bed, strange nighttime noises, and the overall excitement of camp, and it’s no wonder many kids come home from camp severely overtired. So while you’re helping them pack their bags, take a few extra steps to help kids sleep well.
Pack some comfort. Items like special stuffed animals and pillows become particularly important when kids sleep in an unfamiliar place, because they create a soothing sense of security. Kids may also appreciate a small, framed photo of the family or a note from mom and dad.
Check nighttime temperatures. While you’re checking the weather forecast for their camp destination, make sure to check both day and nighttime temperatures, which might be much lower—or higher—than what your child is used to, particularly if he’ll be sleeping in a cabin or tent. Pack several pairs of pajamas (including some warm ones) and thick socks.
Head off embarrassment. If your child is anxious about the possibility of wetting the bed and mortified at the thought of packing disposable training pants, talk to his paediatrician. Some doctors may recommend a short-term prescription for a medication like desmopressin, which slows nighttime urine production and can provide a temporary solution to a potentially embarrassing problem.
Send moonlight munchies. After an action-packed day, young campers may feel their stomachs growl just as the counsellor announces “Lights out!” If camp rules allow it, pack a few pre-bedtime snacks such as whole-grain crackers, granola, cold cereal, and protein bars.
Say no to noise. A child who is particularly sensitive to noise might find camp’s group-sleeping arrangements disconcerting. And strange outdoor sounds can trigger nighttime fears in timid campers. Consider packing earplugs or an iPod, if they prefer falling asleep to music.
Home sleepy home. No matter what you do, kids probably won’t adhere to their regular sleep schedule at camp. When they return, getting back to their normal routine is important. It may take a few days to a week to adjust to their regular schedule, so postpone sleepovers and trips until after kids get caught up on sleep.
Signs your child might be ready for camp
- He talks about the idea of camp
- He is willing and able to sleep over at other people’s houses.
- He shows initiative and is able to take care of himself in some ways.
Residential camps that accept very young kids
Camp Amy Molson
Grenville, QC • (514) 484-9919
Co-ed, ages 5-13
Camp B'nai Brith of Montreal
(514) 735-3669 (winter) • (819) 326-4824 (summer)
Co-ed, ages 6-16
St. Hippolyte, QC • (450) 563-3056
Co-ed, ages 6- 17
Camp de Portneuf
St. Raymond de Portneuf, QC • (800) 667-3923
Co-ed, ages 6-15
St. Calixte, QC
(450) 465-4844 (winter) • (450) 222-2006 (summer)
Co-ed, ages 6-15
Camp Mère Clarac
St. Donat, QC • (819) 424-2261
Boys only ages 4-12
Girls only ages 4-16
St. Donat, QC • (819) 424-2662
Girls only, ages 6-16
Waterville, QC • (800) 667-3923
Co-ed, ages 5-15
(450) 458-5051 (winter) • (819) 843-5353 (summer)
Co-ed, 6 to 16
Racine, QC • (450) 532-4382
Co-ed, ages 6-14
Frontier Lodge Christian Youth Camp
St. Hermenegilde, QC • (819) 844-2277
Co-ed, ages 6 to 17
Muskoka, ON • (705) 635-1600
Co-ed, ages 6-16
Georgian Bay, ON
(416) 488-2077 (winter) • (705) 375-5306 (summer)
Boys only, ages 5-16
Algonquin Highlands, ON
(416) 322-9735 (winter) • (705) 489-2419 (summer)
Co-ed, ages 6 to 16
Lakefield, ON • (866) 532-4597
Co-ed, ages 5-17
Camp Mini-Yo-We (Christian summer camp)
Port Sydney, ON • (888) 226-7699
Co-ed, (ages 5-10 & 14-18)
Temagami, ON • (416) 483-3172
Co-ed, ages 6-17
Canadian Adventure Camp
Temagami, ON • (800) 966-1406
Co-ed, ages 5-17
Eganville, ON • (613) 625-2416
Co-ed, ages 6-16
(416) 482-0782 (winter) • (705) 286-1030 (summer)
Co-ed, ages: 6 to 16
The Taylor Statten Camps
Huntsville, ON • (416) 486-6959
Boys only and girls only camps, ages 6 to 16