Summer camp: guide to letting go

We’ve probably all heard the theory about sending children to a summer camp, from where they come back more independent, responsible and confident. While this may be true, there are some key criteria that need to be in place, without which the camp won’t provide any benefits – and could even have a detrimental effect. If the children’s camp ticks all the right boxes, then it’s very likely that next summer will be one of the best in your child’s life.

What to take into consideration when selecting a summer camp?

Round-the-clock guarded territory, video surveillance, facilities that meet highest safety standards – all things without which the camp just can’t function. Open access for parents to all the essential documentation – licenses, rules, daily routine, staff contacts –is also very important.

The optimal age for a child’s first trip without his parents is about 10-11 years old, but if the camp is adapted for young children and takes into account their psychological characteristics, it is safe to venture there from 8-9 years old. However, it is crucial that the child at this point is already able to be without his parents out of school time: for example, he’s capable of going to a sports club by himself, play in the yard or spend the weekend with friends. Psychologists do not advice a child who has difficulty communicating with his peers to go to a camp: the trip could turn out to a very stressful one and aggravate the situation. First, you need to get to the root causes of the problem and solve them in more indirect ways.

A good camp puts the psychological needs of the child front and centre. The friendliness of the counsellors and teachers, a homely atmosphere, lots of games and creative activities are a prerequisite for younger pupils aged 8-9 years. For 10-11-year olds, active sports activities and structured classes are most principal. For teenagers, being able to socialize is as vital as oxygen. Letting the kids take part in how the events are organized, holding a “debriefing” after each one, running debates and complex multi-stage projects – all this teaches strategy-building, analysis, decision-making, and how to find a common language in a team.

How to get a child ready for camp?

The child must understand where he is going and what the rules will be there. Tatyana Podushkina, child psychologist at JUST DILIJAN IT!, coach and specialist in the development and implementation of psychological support programmes, notes that it is extremely important to talk about the basic rules of looking after yourself, hygiene, safety, and possible crisis situations: what to do if the child feels threatened by other children, if he loses something, becomes sad or uncomfortable, etc.

Additionally, Tatyana notes that it is important to agree the time and frequency of phone calls back home in advance. It’s not a good idea to repeatedly call a child to try and calm him down. By doing so, you may cause harm: disturbing the kid only makes it more difficult for him to adjust into his new environment. Make it clear that you are on his side, and if the child feels really bad, you will do everything to help, even if it means collecting him from the camp, but don’t let your calls hinder his enjoyment of the new world.

What will the child get out of the camp?

Adult characteristics
In addition to socialization skills, in the camp children, especially teenagers, often create roadmaps for their further development. Psychologist Tatyana Podushkina states that “it is very important for teenagers to see themselves reflected in the eyes of adults that are important to them. In the reflection, they are able to see their strengths and weaknesses, to understand who they really are, because they are no longer children, but also not yet adults, and they don’t possess these new behavioural skills yet. Such adult children usually choose teachers, coaches, and in the summer – counsellors. If the image in this “mirror” is crooked, then the teen will see himself in this way. Therefore, it is extremely important that these significant adults reveal and help to develop the child’s best qualities.”

Experience and development
The experience of pushing through your barriers on a hike, in a competition, scientific or social impact project has an enormous meaning in the personal development of a child. Leadership qualities, responsibility, self-confidence, the ability to work both independently and in a team – the child can get all this from being at the camp.

Growing new roots
Of course, sooner or later everyone will have to learn to communicate with the wider world, but the task of the camp is to make the first contact with adult life as smooth as possible. Growing new roots in fresh soil only happens in a safe environment, both physical and emotional. Psychologist Tatyana Podushkina believes that the most important role in this is played by the psychological support of the child throughout his stay in the camp.