Happy Campers: Do Your Homework Before Sending Your Kids to Sleepaway Camp

The following guest post is from Paula Sirois. Paula is a Florida-based writer who specializes in family life and frugal living for Deals.com, the #1 coupon site in the world.

“But everyone is going!” Sound familiar? Seven other girls in my daughter’s third-grade class are booked to go to sleepover camp in a few weeks. Six nights of sleeping in a cabin with no phone, chat or IM access allowed.

That means I can’t even speak to her for six nights and seven days while she roams the woods, probably forgetting her bug spray and SPF while being followed by the Florida gators that will be lurking everywhere.

When I grilled the camp director about the gators, his response left a lot to be desired. It was something like, “You know, every parent asks me about the gators, but they never ask about the snakes.”


According to Summer Camps and Trips, a website that offers no-fee camp referrals, “Research has found that the overnight camp experience promotes and enhances a child’s self-esteem, self-confidence and social skills.” The site goes on to say that these “three traits are deemed essential by experts in order for a child to become a healthy, productive adult.”

Let’s face it, summer camp can be fun! Kids are together, outside in nature, running, swimming, fishing, making crafts, roasting marshmallows and learning some key life skills like how to get along with others and how to be without their parents. And all the while making some lifelong friendships along the way.

 If you’re facing the sleepaway camp dilemma too, here’s what you can do first:

1.  Ask questions: Visit SummerCamp.org for a comprehensive list of questions you should ask yourself, your child and the camps before you make a decision. You’ll need to know about the food, safety, size of the camp, ages and qualifications of the counselors, activities, rules on bullying, opposite-sex mingling and what can and can’t be sent to the campers.

2.  Know the facts: Find out all you can by talking to the camp directors, counselors, other parents, and the kids themselves. Then search the camp on Google and the Better Business Bureau. Knowledge really is power. And it can be comforting too, especially when night three hits and you’re eyeing that bottle of wine or bottle of Valium. You can go back to your research and reread your notes on how everyone loved it and the counselors are the super-duper “bestest” ever.

3.  Dry Run: Start prepping your camper (and yourself) a few months before camp begins. Talk often about the rules of the camp, what you’ll need to pack and what to do in certain situations like feeling homesick or not liking the food. Depending on the age of your campers, practice things like heading to the shower alone, getting out clothes for the day and even making sure to brush those knots that will grow if left alone for a week or more! A prepared kid will be happier camper.

Take baby steps and do a few searches online, talk to some friends and then take a big breath and dive into the overnight-camp experience. You’ll be glad you did.

Note from Frugal Dad: We recently faced the dilemma of picking and choosing from a couple different summer camp options. It just isn’t possible to say yes to all of them, because they have become quite expensive. If your kids are like mine, and will be home most of the summer, here’s a list of 14 summer activities for kids - guaranteed to keep your kids from saying “I’m bored” for at least two weeks! Well…maybe.

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