When should you send kids on school holiday camps? And how do you know when kids are really ready to travel on their own? Summer camp organisers – Merritt Gurley (Camp Director), Dave Milne (Founder of The Wild Planet) and Toby Bell (Marketing Manager of The Wild Planet) – have come together to host Thailand Summer Camps in Khao Yai in Thailand for kids at the end of June. They gave suitcases&strollers their advice on independent travel for kids and how and when to start getting your child camp ready.
Why is it important for kids to travel? What do kids get out of travel that they don't get just staying at home?
Merritt Gurley: Travel gives kids a window into other cultures and new experiences. It broadens their world view and sets them down the path to becoming open-minded, adventurous and empathetic adults. At Thailand Summer Camps kids will breathe fresh air, spend the afternoons learning new skills through fun activities and then gorge on fireside feasts each night. Friendships will be forged, confidence will soar and cherished memories will be made. Particularly for city kids, the unstructured play and the chance to connect with each other and with the stunning natural environment (instead of with their smart phones), is deeply enriching.
Why is it important for kids to travel on their own, away from their parents? What do kids get out of independent travel experiences that is different from when they are on family holidays?
Merritt Gurley: When kids step away from their normal routine, from their peer groups at school and from their parents, they have the chance to see themselves in a new light and maybe even to surprise themselves. These moments of self-discovery during independent travel help fuel personal development and maturity. School holiday camps provide a mix of physical activity, creative expression and teamwork: the building blocks for self-esteem. The skills nurtured during this time away from home will prepare them for challenges later in life.
[What do kids think of independent travel? See what suitcases&strollers Little Globetrotter, Josie (11), had to say here.]
What age is it appropriate for kids to start travelling independently? How can you know if your kid is ready to go on school camp?
Toby Bell: It depends very much on the type of travel. For a summer camp, 8 years old is about the right time to start, although it depends on several factors. These include:
1. How well does your child interact with other students on a social level? This does not include online gaming.
2. Does your child enjoy activities outside of school that don’t involve parent participation?
3. On previous family holidays has your child shown a keenness to explore activities in an unfamiliar environment without parental input or participation?
[If you aren’t sure if your kids are ready for sleep away school holiday camps, try a structured daytime sports camp first. For family travel tips on tennis camps for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
How can parents know which school camp to trust and send their kids to?
Merritt Gurley: Here are a few questions I’d consider as a parent: Are the staff CPR certified? Is there a high enough ratio of camp staff to campers to ensure the children are consistently supervised (for example, ours is 1:3)? Is there a medical facility nearby?
What is the optimal amount of time for a school camp for kids?
Toby Bell: Again age and the above factors would affect the suitable time frame. Most children can cope with 3 to 4 nights away from home.
Dave Milne: It is very much an individual consideration. We have had 8-year-olds from Vietnam that completed a 5 day/4 night program with no issues at all, whereas some of the Bangkok schools tend to start with 2 day/1 night programs and extend the trip length as the children get older. Within these programs we have noticed that the majority of participants enjoy and benefit from the whole experience with a few exceptions. This being said, the ones that struggle being away from home, in my opinion, get the most benefit.
[Would you fly your kid alone as an unaccompanied minor? For more family travel tips on how to do it, see our interview with a suitcases&strollers mum and her 10-year-old frequent flier here.]
What happens if kids get homesick on school holiday camps?
Merritt Gurley: Our camp only runs for five days, not much longer than the average field trip, so we have every confidence it will be an easy transition for children. Parents who want to help their independent travelers fully enjoy the experience should not give them the option of returning home prior to the end of the session. Some children take a few days to settle into a new environment and if they are attached to the prospect of going home early, it can keep them from relaxing and having fun. At Thailand Summer Camps, if a child has a more difficult time adjusting than the average camper, we will be sure to let the parents know and come up with a solution together.
What are your top tips for parents considering sending their kids on an independent travel experience like a school holiday camp?
1. Talk to your child. Choose the summer camp or trip together based on their input and interests.
2. Approach independent travel with a positive outlook. Your enthusiasm will give your child the confidence to really get the most of of the experience. No tearful goodbyes! This is all about fun.
3. Be candid with the camp counselors. If your child has special needs, be sure to let the staff know so they can tailor their care to help your child thrive.
[If you are travelling with kids with allergies or dietry requirements, don’t miss the suitcases&strollers story here.]
4. Do your research. Make sure the camp has safety measures in place and experienced staff.
5. Pack a special note or surprise in their luggage.
6. Go over the itinerary together so your child knows what to expect.
7. Embrace the time to yourself! Your child is having a great time, so you should too.