A Parent’s Guide to Surviving Summer Camp
Make preparations today to preserve your family’s sanity tomorrow
Seasoned parents have long known the best time to prepare for a peaceful and memorable summer break is well in advance. Finding a good summer camp is a great way to ensure the kids get an experience of a lifetime while Mom and Dad’s stress levels are kept to a minimum.
But your child’s success at summer camp will depend on the preparations you make before they set off on their new adventure. Taking the time to get ready ahead of time will allow you to get everything lined up so things run smoothly down the road. Below are some handy tips to help you navigate the entire summer camp process—and safeguard against the unexpected.
Do your research
Websites, magazines, and advertising will reveal there is certainly no shortage of camps for kiddos. If you can think it, it probably exists. Camps for math whizzes, young musicians and artists, sports lovers, outdoors enthusiasts, and kids who love to cook, in addition to good old-fashioned church camps, are among the many options out there. To add to the litany of choices to make, there are day camps, out-of-town camps, overnight camps, half-day programs, and more to consider. Making a list of your priorities will help you narrow the options. Do you have more than one child in need of a summer diversion? Do you want to keep the kids together or separate? Consider your budget for each child. Also, think about your child’s interests and strengths. Don’t forget to take into account other summer activities, like family vacations, and how summer camp might impact scheduling.
Collaborate with your child before choosing a camp
Getting your child’s take on what would make a great summer camp experience will help in the planning phase. Talk to them ahead of time to get a sense of where their interests lie. Take an afternoon to sit down and do some research on options with your child at your side. Involve them in the process from the beginning to set the tone for a great experience. You might be surprised to discover that a week-long LEGO intensive is just what the doctor ordered.
Get the details
Most camp websites will offer full descriptions with pictures and a frequently asked questions page addressing common concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact the camp with your queries. Request a brochure, or—if possible—take a day trip with your child to visit the facility before committing. Many camps offer open house sessions for this very purpose. Pricing can vary greatly from camp to camp. Before you make any firm plans or promises, check tuition and fees. After that, deciding on a camp will really just come down to your must-haves and trusting your gut.
Address your child’s concerns ahead of time
Not knowing what to expect in a new environment can be overwhelming, especially if this will be your child’s first overnight venture away from home. With your child leading the conversation, discuss the upcoming trip but don’t push it. Reflect upon the past school year with them to identify their strengths and accomplishments. Explain their camp experience will provide an opportunity to build on these skills as well as develop new ones. Don’t be afraid to address any prior challenges. Remind your child what they learned from an ordeal they faced in school. This can go a long way to equip them to handle similar scenarios at camp.
Feeling homesick is also part of the experience. In fact, parents can have just as much difficulty adjusting to the kids being gone. The experts at the National Camping Association caution against telling your child how much you will miss them. It’s often better to simply express excitement about their upcoming journey and focus on what to look forward to.
Involve your child in the preparations
As the departure date approaches, encourage independence in your child by including them in the packing and preparation process. As you count down the days, let them take on greater responsibilities at home without your assistance so they can get used to relying on their own judgment. Consider letting them go to sleepovers with friends, or to Grandma’s house for a few nights, to help them adjust to being away from home gradually.
Plan ahead for communication conundrums
Some camps have policies prohibiting cell phone use. This may be a shock to the system for you and your kids. Designated times for calls or emails will be granted, but it may take some getting used to. Before they leave, introduce your child to the lost art of hand-written letters delivered by the trusty postal service. Equip them with a pen, stationery, and stamps. You may even want to slip an initial note into your child’s luggage or into the mail beforehand so it’s waiting for them upon arrival.
Summer camp is a safe place for your child to gain some independence away from home. Before you know it they will be returning to you more relaxed and confident than when they left home.
Ready, Set, Camp!
Quick and simple pre-departure guidelines
- After you register your child for summer camp, you should expect to receive a list of camp essentials. Stick closely to it and avoid sending anything unnecessary.
- Pack well-worn clothing your child will soon outgrow that will withstand the wear-and-tear of camp and make the loss of an item a non-issue.
- Label belongings, but avoid packing valuables such as money, jewelry, or other items that would be difficult or expensive to replace.
- If your child is attached to a favorite toy or blanket, consider leaving it at home and instead purchasing a camp companion just for their trip.
- Type up a list of everything packed to make keeping track of items easier.
- Since many kids have never cohabitated with a large group of people, don’t forget to demonstrate how to organize clothes and toiletries for easy access and to keep their space tidy and contained without intruding on others.
- Teach your child how to hang wet clothing and towels.
- Help your child better navigate their new environment by practicing using a flashlight in the dark.
- Teach them how to apply bug spray and sunscreen.
- Get in touch with the camp nurse about any medications your child takes. Send clear dosage instructions.
- If your child has asthma or food allergies, take precautions to ensure they are prepared in case of an emergency. Educate your child in advance of what to do if the need arises.
- Consider a visit to your child’s pediatrician for a checkup before they leave for camp, and make sure all vaccinations are current.
By Amanda Blair