Brief reference guide if you are hesitating to enroll your children in a camp
This will be the second summer that five-year-old Teo has gone to camp. Last year was his first time and the experience was so positive that both his family and him have decided to repeat it. "Fundamentally because he had a great time and was delighted," explains his mother, Teresa Lázaro, "but also because we need him." They both work and cannot be with their children – they have another ten-month-old girl – for the duration of the children's holidays, around ten weeks. "We can take at most two or three each, but not even taking turns and separating the holidays would cover it." So “if you can afford it, because some are quite expensive even though there are a lot of crowds,” he says, summer camp is a good lifesaver for everyone. "There he does different activities and with new people," he advises.
These two years have opted for a camp organized outside of Teo's school so that he leaves the context in which he develops throughout the course and also meets other different children: "We want him to leave the city -they live in Madrid-, to do outdoor activities, to have a feeling of summer”. But it is not easy to choose.
The offer of camps is currently overwhelming. There has been an evolution, from an activity that we associated a couple of decades ago with little more than the tent, the sacks and the playback nights, to a detailed catalog of specialties that, without a doubt, complicates the choice of parents. Robotics, English, martial arts, farming, emotional intelligence, cooking; you just have to type "summer camps Spain" in Google to come across more than four and a half million results.
The advice of the child psychologist at the Crece Bien centers, Sonia Martínez, is that in order to choose the best camp for our children, we must take into account, on the one hand, that it suits their tastes and, on the other, their eating habits. socialization and overnight stays –if they have already slept away from home or have spent a few days separated from their parents, for example-. But in any case, he says, "it brings associated many benefits at any age", especially the formula chosen by Teresa to sign up for one other than the one organized by the school, in which children are exposed to new scenarios, new people and different activities. .
What does it bring them?
Socialization begins in childhood. Through our relationship with others, we build a personality prepared to integrate into society. As children establish bonds with other people and with their peers, they gain skills to face different situations, they feel safer, they integrate better. When the adults of reference, who are usually the fathers and mothers, are not present, they have to carry out this socialization on their own. This is encouraged in academic settings, such as schools, but also in leisure settings, such as camps. “It usually replaces the old days of going to town with your grandparents and your cousins. It is seen as an extension of life experiences (beyond school)”, points out Montse Modesto, pedagogue.
“When they see that they are there alone and that they can do everything, in addition to gaining autonomy, they gain self-confidence.” If, as adults, we encourage them to interact with children other than those they normally do, such as their school friends, they will be forced to learn things that are so common to us adults, such as starting a conversation, making a new friendship or reaching to agreements and play new roles.
The fact that he leaves the camp organized by the school also exposes him to new contexts. “If they see that they are able to manage in nature, or in a camp speaking English, or just doing various activities such as painting, swimming… they will feel safe in many types of situations. These opportunities serve as tests for when they are adults and also teach them to choose their partners and friends, "says the psychologist.
"Train" them for it
We can train boys and girls so that, when the time comes to start the adventure that camping entails for them, they have the necessary skills and qualities to see it as something to enjoy and not suffer from. This can be done by having a little conversation with them some time before or, what would be more appropriate, building it up throughout childhood with small outings outside the home.
“It is better to make it progressive”, point out the experts consulted. In this way, we will be able to know when the boy or girl is prepared much better than based on age criteria. "It depends more on what we have accustomed them to, if they have done other shorter activities with other children, if they have been successful with them and feel capable of feeling good living other experiences...", points out Martínez. So she advises that the first time be an urban camp and a few hours in the morning. Later, when you have had time to train overnight, for example, with a friend or family member and have been separated from your parents for a weekend, take the step to an overnight camp.
Montse Modesto believes that it is useful to divide it by age to know what type of camp to shoot for. Thus, “from 4 to 5 years old, it is better to enroll them in what are called day camps, in which they are busy when their parents are working, but then they sleep at home. Around 8-9 years old they could start doing camps in which they sleep outside, but better in a close environment or with some monitors or companions who know about other activities so that they don't take it abruptly.
By 13 or 14, they can already sleep in camps far from home, even in other countries. Bad experiences in camps, he says, are usually lived by boys or girls who have not traveled with the school on excursions, are accompanied by parents everywhere or have never slept away from home... "But if little is done little by little, there shouldn't be any problems”, he recommends.
Sonia Martínez agrees that before the age of seven or eight it is usually early to spend the night outside because they still depend on the adult for their own autonomy. “From the age of seven they are already more independent, they have internalized the habits of hygiene, food, sleep, they no longer have night awakenings and they control their sphincters perfectly. But it always depends on the maturity of the child, there are some who can go to camp when they are younger because they are more prepared and others for whom at seven years old it may be soon, ”she says.
If we have already made the decision to sign them up, it is advisable to talk to them naturally about what it is going to be like, send them positive messages about what they are going to experience and make it clear to them that we will be there when they return: “There is no need to give it too much importance or speak it a thousand times. In fact, it can be counterproductive because you can perceive it as something very big and get scared of it”.
What if you don't want to go?
If a child does not want to go to camp, the first thing is to ask why and ask him, although in principle it may be normal for him to feel restless and afraid of facing new things with people he does not know. "There are children who resist more because it is an environment they do not know and they do not know 100% if they are going to be able to dominate it," explains Martínez. But fear is one more emotion and, as such, can be educated. “They will know how to handle it if when they express that fear we understand them and support them to overcome it. If we prevent them from being exposed to it, the only thing we achieve is to increase it, ”she says.
We help them understand their fear by telling them that we are all afraid of things that we do not know, giving them our own examples in which as adults we have also been afraid, looking for a situation in which they have felt fear and have overcome it, explains the psychology expert childish. “Do you remember when you went to school the first time? You were also scared at first and now you like it and you have friends there, ”she puts her as an example.
Another strategy is to help them visualize what the camp is going to be like, how much fun they are going to have, what activities they are going to do, how good it is to meet other children, how well their monitors are going to take care of them -this is important since for them they are unknown adults and they need to trust them - and how happy everyone will be when he returns home again. “Just plain 'don't be afraid' doesn't work, you have to help him visualize it and propose it as a challenge that he will overcome and above all, enjoy. At the end of the day, it consists of enjoying it”, concludes the psychologist.