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Parents need to let go for summer camp

June 08, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Dropping your kid off to camp for the first time might require a lesson in learning how to "scram," said Mary Rotz, director of Antietam Recreation's summer camp program.

"We have parents who will just cling to their kids, and the kids will cling to their parents," Rotz said. "Sometimes we wish the parents would just scram. And when they do, the kid is fine."

There is much to learn from Rotz, parents and others well-versed in the ways of kids' camps, especially for parents who are about to make the summer camp venture for the first time.

First camp impressions are important for children.

"(A bad experience) puts a bad taste in their mouths on camp forever," Rotz said.

And there are a lot of camp opportunities.

Each year, roughly 11 million people attend a day or overnight camp, according to estimates from the American Camp Association, a trade group that offers accreditation to camps.

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Rotz and others offer tips for first-time parents:

· Learn to let go

Often, the most difficult part - for children and parents - is learning to let go.

"Parents can be almost too protective," Rotz said.

To put Rotz's observations in proper perspective, parents are always welcome at Antietam Recreation's day camps, which have been offered at Antietam Recreation - owned by Rotz's family - for 30 years. Antietam Recreation, on Garis Shop Road south of Hagerstown, will kick off its 11-week day camp program this Monday.

Rotz said parental involvement is key to making children and parents more comfortable on the big day.

"That way, they can see for themselves that their children will be safe," she said. "That will make everyone feel more comfortable."

But in doing this, parents still need to keep in mind that camp is a time for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and, more importantly, "just have fun," Rotz said.

Virginia Ramsey of Falling Waters, W.Va., has sent her sons, Andrew, 12, and Nathanael, 13, to Antietam Recreation's day camp for three years and plans to do so again this year.

The first time Ramsey sent her sons to Antietam Recreation camp she had a couple of concerns.

"Safety, that was the biggie," said Ramsey, who home-schools her two sons. "So being a cautious mother, I asked if I could observe. When I saw how cautious the staff was and how they were with the kids, I was OK to leave them."

And it is important to leave children on their own in a safe setting.

"It kind of breaks the kids into being away," Ramsey said.

· Consider the child.

One kind of camp doesn't necessarily work for any kind of personality.

You might not want to go with a traditional camp if you have a "girlie girl," said veteran camp counselor Karen Long, who works at Antietam Recreation.

"If they're just absolutely prissy and have to have their dresses and their hair done, this probably wouldn't be the place for them," Long said. "Same for the boy who's into computers and technology and doesn't like sports or being outdoors."

Nowadays, there's a camp for virtually every kind of kid. Of the 131 listings submitted for The Herald-Mail's 2007 summer camp listings that were published April 27, 62 had arts or academic themes.

Starting Sunday, Shippensburg University is offering a five-day Forensics Camp for 10th- and 12th-graders. Starting June 25, Hagerstown Community College is offering Digital Divas in a Connected World, a five-day technology-focused camp for girls in grades six through eight.

There are also a slew of dance and cheer camps to help bring out any girlie-girl's inner princess.

Age also makes a difference. Six-year-olds are usually too young for most activities at overnight and day camps, Rotz said.

"Seven or 8 is really a good age," Rotz said. "By that age they can change their own clothes. They can manage themselves."

· Send them off with the basics - no more, no less

The basics campers should pack include "bug spray, sunscreen and comfortable clothes," said Carrie Cirritio, operations director at Jellystone Camp Resort at Hagerstown. Jellystone doesn't offer day camps, but the facility does offer activities for children whose families happen to be camping on the grounds.

Also, it is not the time to go clothes shopping. Parents who go all out, buying fancy new clothes for a camp stint usually learn their lessons after the first week.

"A kid hasn't had a good day at camp unless he comes back tired, dirty and maybe wet," Rotz said.

You'll want to "put them in stuff you don't care about," Rotz said.

Basics also include medication, said Long, who is also a registered nurse (though she doesn't act as a nurse at the camp).

"Parents should let the counselors know if their child is taking medication," Long said.

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