Summer camp and adoption

Siobhan Rowe
Focus on Adoption magazine
More on these topics: 

Most North American children go to summer camp at some point in their childhood. Camps can be great fun, they help with developing independence and, overall, can be very enriching. But, for some adopted children, there may be extra challanges involved in the summer camp experience. Here are some great tips on what to consider before you sign up your child.

Sleep on it

For some adopted children, especially children with attachment problems, a sleep-over camp can be very difficult to handle. Separation from family can also be extremely stressful for a child who has already experienced painful separations and rejection—especially in the early stages of an adoption. In the case of internationally adopted children, a camp environment might trigger memories of an orphanage and provoke fear or sadness. In such cases, don’t consider a sleep-over camp until you are convinced that your child is ready for it, would benefit from it, and he or she wants to go.

Sensible sleep-over tips

If you do decide to do a sleep-over camp, follow some of these simple suggestions:

  • Let your child help choose the camp. This will help reduce any feelings of being “sent away.”
  • Practice some "mini-separations" (for a night or two). These will boost your child's confidence and help ease the transition to being away from home.
  • Make sure it is possible to keep in touch with your child during camp.
  • Give your child a few symbolic things to take along (family picture, stuffed animal, etcetera).
  • Write your child a note explaining that you are a forever family. Leave it in his or her bag.
  • Talk about your plans after the camp to create a feeling of continuity for your child.
  • Expect some adjustment difficulties once your child comes home.

Kids with special needs

One of the benefits of camp is that children sharing cabins seldom press one another for details of their family—where they came from, why they can’t live with their birth parents, or that a child joined his or her family through adoption—at camp it’s much less obvious who your parents are and what they look like. A camp for kids with special needs is much better for a child that is a flight risk or needs constant supervision—regular camps may offer too many unstructured activities.

  • Kids are more likely to try something new when they are not surrounded by school peers who have preconceived ideas about them.
  • Camp may also be the place where no one knows that a child spends time in a modified program at school.
  • Most camp activities don’t require the math and reading skills that might quickly identify those with learning challenges.
  • Children who try new activities like boating, hiking, diving, or performing a skit, may be able to develop a new understanding of themselves.
  • Camp gives kids the opportunity to see that there is a whole world outside of their school, family and community. 
  • A happy camp experience can give parents renewed hope for their child’s future.

Do your homework first

  • Be sure to share relevant information about your child’s needs with camp staff.
  • Ask if the staff are experienced in working with children with your child’s special need.
  • Give examples of situations that you might see arising with your child, and ask how the staff would be expected to react.
  • If the camp is run by a church group, find out how big a part faith-based activities play—you need to make sure that your child will be comfortable and will fit in.
  • Find out if there will be a staff member awake through the night to monitor the kids or get them back into bed if they wander.
  • Ask what the child/staff ratio at the camp is (don’t include the cook and administrators).
  • Find out what sort of activities are scheduled and how difficult they are. Compare this with the abilities of your child.
  • Ask how staff will react to challenging behaviour, lost items, and medical emergencies.
  • Send clothing you don’t mind being lost!
  • If you are worried about your child’s behaviour at camp, why not become a volunteer?

Culture camps

Internationally and transracially adopted children can benefit tremendously from spending time with children of the same race. Most children love the fact that, for once, they are not in a minority. Cultural camps are also a wonderful opportunity for kids to be exposed to cultural activities that are are all based around a specific culture.

Check out upcoming adoption-related camps!

Want to read more? Subscribe to Focus on Adoption magazine!