Going to Camp: Solo or with a Buddy?

Melissa Kossler Dutton

When Parker Logan started day camp at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus last summer, the now third-grader didn't know any of the other campers.

The Johnstown resident was a little worried but found that he quickly made friends.

His secret: He talked to all the kids and figured out which ones liked the same things he did. That's how he met Yahkov Liebesman of Columbus.

"We both like basketball, and we became good friends," the 9-year-old said.

They started shooting hoops and hanging out. Yahkov, 8, invited Parker to his birthday party.

The boys said making a new friend was one of the best things about camp.

When deciding whether to send a child to day camp with or without a buddy, local experts suggest considering the child's personality and their ability to make new friends. They also recommend discussing the issue with your kid. It's also important to remember that in many cases, children attending camp may already know one another. Camps also have different policies about honoring parents' requests to pair up kids.

A child who is insecure or who has trouble meeting new people might benefit from going with a friend, said Denny Elliott, executive director of the Ohio Field Office of the American Camp Association.

It's far less intimidating to walk into a new setting with a friend than without, and attending camp with a friend also can strengthen the relationship, he said.

"Going with a friend creates a shared experience that they can talk about together," said Elliot.

Still, some children might do better going solo, said Roger Hanafin, the youth, teen and family program director at the Delaware Community Center YMCA.

Often camp is a place where kids can explore new things or try on a different persona, Hanafin explained: "At camp, they're free to try something new. It's a time to try on a different hat. A lot of personal discovery happens at camp. That's what camp is about."

Going to camp with friends from school or the neighborhood can inhibit that, Hanafin said.

A kid who tends to go along with what his or her friends want to do also may benefit from going alone because it would free the child to pursue his or her own interests, he said.

If a child is going to camp alone, make sure he or she has the tools to make new friends, Elliott suggested. Role play what to say and do when you meet someone new, he said.

When making the decision, don't forget that camp counselors are trained to help children make new friends, said Halle Schwartz, the director for children, youth and camping at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus.

"The role of camp director and counselors is to think about what's going to make the experience 100 percent positive," Schwartz explained.

Counselors are there to help kids with social interactions, she said. They can assist kids in developing new friendships and managing their old ones. At the JCC, counselors try to help kids understand the value of adding new friends into their circle, she said.

Counselors can even help forge friendships with kids who may not have gotten along in the past, added Hanafin.

"Counselors work to help kids resolve problems," he said.

When selecting a camp, the experts suggest finding one that is focused around a sport, activity or pursuit that appeals to the child. Have the child play an active role in choosing what camps he or she will attend, suggested Elliott. Children are more likely to enjoy themselves if they are participating in something they like to do. It also gives them something in common with the other participants.

Once you've chosen a camp, don't be shy about communicating with the director or counselors, recommended Erin Duffee, preschool and youth program supervisor for Dublin's Recreation Services department.

"Any information we receive from parents to help the child will be beneficial," she said. "The more we understand where the child is coming from, the more we can help them make friends."

If the camp director knows that a child is slow to make new friends, he or she can pair them with a child who has attended the camp before or with one who is eager to make friends, Duffee explained.

Details about a child's personality or behavior help the camp staff do their job, Hanafin added.

"If you think it helps you raise your child, it's probably going to help us," he said.