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July 12, 2024

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Local Day Camps for Preschoolers: A First-Time Guide

You should absolutely send your young child to camp, but cover your bases first. We've got everything you need in order to make a solid plan.

Camps, camps, camps! Seems everybody’s talking about summer camp programs for kids. But what if your little one has never gone before? It’s not always easy to let your little one go, but fortunately lots of local summer day camps have programs perfect for kids as young as 3. And even better news? When kids are allowed to go to camp they discover that, hey, being on your own isn’t so bad afterall … in fact … it’s fun! Here’s a guide to help you navigate your way toward finding the perfect summer day camp for your child.


Sending your child to summer camp for the first time is exciting, and thereโ€™s a lot to consider. Middle Tennessee boasts myriad day camps, several with options for little ones as young as 3 years old (see page 31).


There are many positive benefits to a kid’s day-camp experience. Camp nurtures social skills, enhance self-confidence, model healthy living, foster teamwork and encourage personal growth. Camp also helps ease the summer slide while getting kids to unplug and build new friendships.


Itโ€™s a no-brainer that your childโ€™s temperament and interests are the first things to consider. Start by making a list of camp features most important to your child and you, and be sure to include your child in the decision-making process.

โ€œWe went solely based on our daughter’s interests and with what sounded like the most fun,โ€ says Nashville mom Shalene France Gray, recalling daughter Zazouโ€™s first camp excursion at 5-and-a-half. โ€œAs it was her first camp experience, it was more important to pick something she was interested in as there were too many other factors to be nervous about,โ€ she adds.

With many local options, your best bet for research is with Nashville Parent’s premier Summer Camp Directory.

Your best point of reference is going to be from other moms and dads, so ask around. โ€œThere is no better way to zero in on great programs than word of mouth from other parents,โ€ says Hendersonville mom Ginger Hartsock. โ€œThe experience behind those recommendations is priceless.โ€

France Gray offers a final suggestion: โ€œEvery child is different, so being sensitive to the type of child you have is incredibly important. If they help choose where to go and what type of camp, it seems that theyโ€™re so excited when the big day comes and less likely to chicken out,โ€ she says.

Camp Director Questions

โ€ข May I come by and visit the camp first?
โ€ข Where do your counselors come from, who will be with my child throughout the day and what is the camper to counselor ratio? Also, how do you screen your counselors?
โ€ข What kind of training do your counselors have? What about safety training?
โ€ข What sets your camp apart from the rest?
โ€ข What is your protocol should bullying or fighting happen? How are disciplinary actions handled in general?
โ€ข What procedures do you follow if my child gets injured?
โ€ข How does your camp accommodate special needs, including food allergies, medical, behavior, etc.?
โ€ข Can you put me in touch with current camp families as references?
โ€ข What is your campโ€™s return rate?

Is Day Camp Better With a Friend?

โ€œAt least heโ€™ll know one personโ€ is the thinking behind the should-I-send-my-first-time-camper-with-a-friend question. The answer is always: it depends on your child.
Seasoned camp directors say don’t panic about sending your child solo. The right camp for your child will be nurturing, and new friendships will be made. The best reason to send a first-time day camper with a friend is for the parents who need to carpool. It makes it a lot easier to share the drop-off and pick-up duties each day.
When you pick the right camp for your child, you donโ€™t have to worry that he will need a friend to go with him because heโ€™ll make new friends there. Thatโ€™s one of the best parts about camp. Shared experiences and activities yield new friendships. Camp directors often say they would gladly trade off the pre-camp comfort of a known friend for the development of friendship making skills that will last for years to come. In preparing for first-time at day camp alone, convey confidence and excitement to your child, and know that this will be a growing experience for him.


What if my child has an allergic reaction to a food or a bee?
Know that camps have food allergy safety plans in place. Many have alternative meal plans available. In the event of an allergic reaction to a bee sting or poison ivy, you will be contacted but first-aid measures will be taken right away.

I got a call saying my child broke his wrist โ€” what do I do?!
All camps have emergency contact forms for parents to fill out so you are able to specify your preferences for your child.

What if Iโ€™m running late on pickup?
Many day camps offer extended care for an additional fee, some even by the hour.

Thereโ€™s stormy weather in the forecast. Will camp be canceled?
Most camps accommodate for this type of weather and move activities inside. If the weather is severe, the camp will notify you with a plan of action.

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