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January 17, 2008 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-01-17

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oing to overnight camp for the
first time is, in many circles, a
Jewish rite of passage. Unlike
becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, howev-
er, the perfect timing for transitioning
from day-camper to overnight camper
is not preordained; on the contrary,
it can vary significantly from child to
With no magic age to rely on, how
do we determine whether or not our
child is ready to take the sleep-away
plunge? We take a deep breath, separate
our own conflicted emotions from the
question at hand, and look for the fol-
lowing overnight camp
readiness markers in our
son or daughter (adapted
from guidelines by Chris
Scheuer, director of camp-
ing for YMCA camping
services of Greater New
Desire to go to over-
night camp. True, some
kids require gentle nudges
to get them into the sleep-
away state of mind. But
if you notice your child
turning a ghastly gray
every time you broach the topic of bug
juice or s'mores, chances are you should
wait another year.
Successful experiences away from
home. Generally speaking, kids who
routinely spend the night with friends
without 3 a.m. pleas for pick-up or sur-
vive a week at Grandma's with minimal
trauma are more likely to take to an
extended stay at overnight camp than
kids who don't.
Adaptability to new routines. Every
child takes a little while to settle into
new schedules and routines, but some
kids become prohibitively anxious in
the absence of familiar protocol. If you
believe your child might wig out if his
favorite Scooby Doo mug isn't delivered
nightly to his bedside with spring water
and crushed ice, overnight camp may
be a Scooby Don't for now
Ability to interact with other
children. Your child needn't be a social
debutante, but a basic knack for inte-
grating into a group, relating to other
kids and forging friendships is vital for
group/bunk life.
A handle on hygiene basics. While
overnight camp provides an excellent
forum for promoting independence in
kids, a child who has yet to nail down

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January 17 2008


hygienic basics (face and body wash-
ing, hair and tooth brushing, nose and
tuchas wiping) can quickly become
disheveled, malodorous and embar-
Ability to express needs. Plenty of
shy kids thrive in a sleep-away setting,
but profound hesitance to communi-
cate personal needs — especially when
a child is not feeling well, needs help
learning a skill, or isn't sure where an
activity is taking place — can compro-
mise a camper's physical and emotional
Willingness to experience the
outdoors. No matter how
expensive an overni t
camp might be, it is not
going to be the Ritz. On the
contrary, spiders, snakes,
rain and mud are part of
the overnight camp fabric.
While most kids take well
to the opportunity to con-
nect with nature on such
an intimate level, some kids
do not.
Respect for adults.
Enjoying a bit of parent-free
abandon is part of the fun
of overnight camp. Still, basic kavod
(respect) toward counselors, special-
ists and other authority figures, and
willingness to adhere to adult-initiated
boundaries, are prerequisites for a suc-
cessful sleep-away stay.
Finally, keep in mind that the afore-
mentioned guidelines are not foolproof.
Some kids may receive stellar scores in
classic overnight camp readiness signs
and still not be ideal summer sleep-
away candidates. Others may come up
short on paper, but do absolutely fine at
overnight camp. This is why it's always
important to consult your parent gut
— your intrinsic understanding of
your child — before making a final
decision on this issue (and on any other
parenting issue for that matter). If, after
careful consideration, you determine
your son or daughter is not quite ready
for prime-time overnight camp, don't
despair. Embrace the coming months as
an opportunity to help your little camp-
er reach these milestones and reassess
the situation next year. ❑


Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally

syndicated parenting columnist and author

from Atlanta.

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