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Summer camps for kids: Your questions answered by experts

Navigating the land of summer camps for kids isn’t easy, so we asked the experts for some help with frequently asked questions.

Illustration: Nicole Kenney

Whether parents are pros or newbies when it comes to summer camps for kids, they're bound to have questions each spring about everything from when their child is ready for overnight camp to how to wean their children from their screens. Because we had some pressing camp queries ourselves, we asked some experts—Laurel Barrie, founder of free referral service Camp Connection; Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association for New York and New Jersey; and Michael Thompson,  Ph.D., author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow—for their advice on the most frequently asked questions about summer camp for kids.

RECOMMENDED: Summer camps for kids

Q My kid is a picky eater, and I remember camp food being pretty awful. How can I be sure he won’t starve?
In many camps, bologna sandwiches and sloppy Joes have been replaced by vegetarian options and gourmet pizza (one child we know came home from camp insisting her mom learn how to cook shakshuka, an Israeli baked-egg dish). Still, even in the most basic camp kitchen, your kid will likely have several options to choose from, including ubiquitous hot dogs and PBJ sandwiches—unless, of course, you choose a nut-free camp. “Camp food has changed significantly since we were kids,” says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association for New York and New Jersey. “There is more variety, so there are always alternatives, like hot and cold salad bars and sandwiches.” Keep in mind that your kid will not be the first, last or only picky eater the camp has ever seen, and that counselors are trained to make sure campers are eating something nutritious.

Q How do I know if my child is ready for sleepaway camp?
Here’s a pretty reliable test: When you drop her off at a friend’s for a sleepover, does she race through the door, barely glancing back to say goodbye, or does she come down with a mysterious tummy ache and cancel at the last minute? When you show her an online video about camp, does she get pumped for the zipline and Fourth of July carnival or focus on why there are so many bugs in the woods? “It depends both on age and temperament—some kids are ready at eight, especially if they have older siblings who are going, and others need to be pushed out the door at 11 or 12,” says Michael Thompson. Beware of allowing your child to hold on to those apron strings too long, he adds. “If you don’t send your kid away until 14 or 15, then they risk going to a camp where all the other kids already know each other.”

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