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How to help your preschooler get excited about day camp

If you are looking for strategies to get your preschooler excited about day camp or another new experience, think about what helps you, as an adult, get excited for something new that’s about to happen in your life. Here is the secret formula: Value + Safety + Adventure.

Value: What’s in it for me? When we know the value of an experience and how it will benefit us, we are more likely to participate in something new or at least be willing to try. For example, if your child goes to day camp, they will meet new friends, become a better swimmer, or maybe try horseback riding for the first time! Finding out what your child thinks they will value most from this experience can help guide your conversation with them about day camp and keep the focus on fun.  

Safety: Will I be safe? Going into a new experience can bring on anxiety and nerves. We want to know that in a new experience, we will be safe - both physically and emotionally. Regarding day camp for your preschooler, what is the ratio of staff to campers? What training do staff receive to support physical and emotional safety at camp? What are the procedures if campers get homesick? How do camp staff help nurture the campers’ friendships as well as a camper’s individual needs? Doing a bit of research ahead of time on day camps for your preschooler can help you reassure your child that this experience will be safe for them.

Adventure: How will a new adventure help me? Whether you are a preschooler starting day camp for the first time or an adult joining a hockey league for the first time, it all comes down to adventure. If we are willing to try something new and be vulnerable, then we can experience new adventures, gain new skills, and be open to more opportunities as we grow. What seems risky at first can turn out to be the most rewarding experience in life. Helping your child pursue adventure at a young age will build their confidence and independence for success later in life.

Now that you know the secret formula that can help a preschooler (or anyone) get excited about a new experience, here are a few strategies to help you put the formula into practice:

  • Talk with your child about the activities they will get to do at day camp. Use pictures and videos from the camp website or read stories about day camp. Children may find something more appealing if they see an activity being done or can reflect on a positive story.
  • Ask your child which one or two activities they are most interested in and continue talking about these to build excitement.
  • Talk with your child about what to expect each day at camp (e.g., drop-off time, games, swim time, lunch, arts & crafts, and pick-up time). You can even create a visual chart for your child.
  • Give your child something to bring that can help them feel connected to home if they feel home sick or nervous. For example, a homemade bracelet to wear, a stuffed animal, or a key chain with a picture of your family.
  • Talk with your child about your own experiences with trying new things or attending day camp. Share how you felt going into it, what it was like, and how you felt after the experience to role model the importance of pursuing adventure.
  • Remember, it is okay to be nervous about a new experience. Reassure your child that feeling nervous is common and healthy. I have seen first-hand as a camp counsellor and as a parent the lifelong positive impact that a day camp experience has on a child.

Happy adventures!

Jen is a consultant with WordPLAY Consulting Inc.,, and a Recreation Program Specialist with The City of Calgary. She has three children and enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family. Feeling Social? Follow on Instagram @wordplaycanada. 

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