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Summer camp at different ages and stages

When is the best time to send my child to camp?

Being a parent through the ages and stages of childhood is demanding but also rewarding, especially when you see your child flourish. Remember to include "camp" on your best-choice list of places where that happens.

The following is a general guide only, but it will help you to explore the links between the stages of development and the ways camp can help a child to grow and learn.

When choosing a camp, be realistic about your child's physical, intellectual and emotional development levels and his or her limitations. Every child develops at a different pace and in a unique way, but all can find a place in the sun at camp.

Ages and stages

Ages 4 to 6

Their world

  • Sponges for information, questioning and curious
  • Learning to reason and understand their environment
  • More aware of the feelings, actions and motivations of others
  • Focusing more on how peers see them
  • Stronger physically, more co-ordinated and agile (conquering the monkey bars, learning how to throw and catch a ball)
  • Learning to read and write

Their concerns

What camp offers

  • Children learn to take part in more structured activities, such as crafts or field trips
  • Learning to take turns, to share and to consider the feelings of others
  • Encourages trust in adults other than parents
  • Increases confidence and comfort level about being apart from parents
  • Teaches children to take care of themselves, such as keeping track of the contents of a backpack
  • Some overnight camps offer short, partial-week stays as a gentle first experience for their youngest campers

Ages 7 to 9

Their world

  • Becoming more of an individual, exploring likes and dislikes, expressing particular personality traits
  • Developing specific interests (sports, music, drama, computers)
  • Friendships become increasingly important, as does socializing in groups
  • Developing a more sophisticated sense of right and wrong, understanding codes of behaviour

Their concerns

  • How they compare with others
  • Question rules and structures
  • Looking for role models outside of family

What camp offers

  • A chance to test out a wide range of activities and also to focus on specific interests and talents
  • A supportive environment in which to take on physical, emotional and intellectual challenges
  • A safe place to explore capabilities and limitations
  • Promotes the setting of appropriate boundaries
  • Encourages children to take responsibility for their own actions
  • A chance to make new friends outside of home or school

Ages 10 to 12

Their world

  • Torn between childhood and adolescence: sometimes rushing to be grown up, other times yearning to remain a kid
  • Looking for role models
  • Questioning the rhyme and reason of the worldaround them
  • Friendships and peers gain greater importance

Their concerns

  • Looking for more independence from parents
  • Worried about fitting in with peers
  • Want to define their unique personality

What camp offers

  • A good outlet for the independence preteens crave; boundaries are expanded, but in a supervised and nurturing environment
  • Campers are given greater responsibility and encouraged to solve problems themselves
  • An environment where they are able to acquire and master skills at their own pace
  • Many athletic, social, and recreational activities allow preteens to find a fit, master a skill and gain more self-esteem
  • Campers learn teamwork
  • Counsellors and camp instructors act as role models
  • A diverse environment that encourages tolerance and acceptance

Ages 13 to 15

Their world

  • A concerted push for independence and autonomy
  • Seeking out roles, including leadership ones
  • Want more responsibility, but also to set own rules
  • Friendships start to overshadow family
  • Testing their limits

Their concerns

  • Defining their place in the world
  • Being listened to and heard
  • Wanting to be understood and accepted, particularly by their peers

What camp offers

  • Chances to build leadership skills
  • A safe environment for taking positive risks
  • Skills for working both independently and with others
  • A sense of self-esteem through mentoring younger campers
  • An environment that fosters building deep and abiding friendships
  • Chances to challenge their physical abilities and master new skills and gain self-confidence
  • A sense of belonging

Ages 16 and onwards

Their world

  • To find their adult selves and their niche in the world
  • Challenging and exciting experiences to test their limits
  • Mentors they can respect and admire
  • Friends who understand them
  • To define themselves beyond the parameters of their parents

Their concerns

  • Shedding childhood roles
  • Gaining greater independence
  • Figuring out who is looking back at them in the mirror
  • Future job opportunities

What camp offers

  • Greater opportunities to practice leadership
  • Positive role models
  • Adult mentors
  • A deeper sense of who they are as individuals and the effect they can have as part of a community
  • Heightened physical and mental challenges to test what they're made of, particularly through advanced adventure trips like extended canoe or hiking expeditions
  • Extended camp sessions for a month or longer
  • Skills that will help them at school and at work, as well as in life

Camp offers work-world preparation

  • Life and career skills such as planning, time management, team building, co-operation, effective communication and conflict resolution
  • Specialized leadership and counsellor-in-training programs
  • As former campers, often preferential hiring for summer employment as counsellors
  • Competency and certification in specialized areas, such as lifeguarding or first aid
  • Training in how to support, guide and lead others, whether peers or younger kids
  • Confidence-building for more adult responsibilities
  • Personal goal setting and drive to better your best: a mindset that supports future education and career achievements


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