The Ultimate Guide to Summer Camp
By: Dasha Peipon
It’s both exciting and a little nerve-wracking: your child is going to summer camp. You know there will be lots of wonderful memories created, many sweet friendships made, new skills developed, fears conquered, talents explored. You will probably also be worried sick for your child, hoping and praying he is safe, warm, dry, surrounded by friends and having a good time. Here is a little guide to get you through this exciting, yet challenging experience.
Choosing the Best Summer Camp
Programming for Success
When preparing to send your child to camp, stay positive, and don’t make your child feel guilty for going. Avoid phrases such as “Can’t imagine our life without you for a whole week”. Instead, focus on all the fun activities and adventures to look forward to.
Zack Owens, Twin Lakes summer camp counselor and a former director, shares some tips. “Expose your child to an idea of a summer camp in a safe setting: conversations at home, videos, or even a tour of the camp to meet the staff and see the fun activities offered. This lessens the fear of the unknown, and helps your child to picture himself enjoying camp. Ask the camp director if there are any opportunities to test the waters before signing up. If possible, send your child to camp with at least one friend. Don’t be afraid to wait until your camper is ready – some kids thrive at overnight camp at six years old, and some would rather wait until age 10. Listen to your child and be patient, while still encouraging him and equipping to try new things.”
The list will vary greatly, depending on whether you’re getting ready for a day camp or an overnight, a hiking trip or a somewhat civilized stay in a cabin. Your summer camp should provide a detailed packing list (do’s and don’ts) to guide you. As a general rule, your child needs comfortable walking/running shoes, waterproof shoes and a whole extra set of clothes, including socks and underwear (it’s helpful to keep it in a resealable plastic bag for easy storage of dirty or wet clothes if changing is necessary). A sunhat, cap or a visor is very important to keep the skin and eyes protected from the sun. Most importantly though is to actually remember to wear it!
Bug repellent and sunscreen are a must. But stick to the lotion types, or even better – wipes. Do not pack an aerosol spray. While applying it, your child may spray the other campers in the eyes by accident. Children are typically not the most graceful creatures, and aren’t very conscious of their surroundings.
Don’t forget sanitizer, easy quick snacks, a water bottle and a comfortable lightweight backpack to hold it all in.
There are also things NOT to pack. Every camp counselor will agree packing carbonated drinks or lots of sweet snacks or candy for your kids is a terrible idea. They aren’t the healthiest choices, plus on a hot day lots of sugar may make your child sick. Don’t let your child bring valuables, like jewelry or electronics. Those get lost, broken, and sometimes even stolen.
Helping your Homesick Camper
For children very attached to home, going to a summer camp for the first time will be particularly hard. It’s important for parents and staff to be on the same page, and take every step to make this transition easier for everyone in order to make the whole experience memorable and fun. While talking about summer camp at home, don’t give your kid an easy out. Avoid phrases like “If you don’t like it, we’ll come get you”. It’s a matter of days, or possibly hours until you get that SOS phone call. Once you say goodbye, let go. Trust the counselors to do their jobs and take care of your child. Trust your camper to be sensible and make good choices. Relax and enjoy your little break – after all, you deserve it!
Dasha Peipon was a pitiful little homesick girl the first time she went to summer camp, but loved it so much she was doing at least three every summer. She can’t wait to take her own kid to camp for the first time this year!