Sleep away camp is one of those experiences you never forget – good or bad. It can be an exciting opportunity for kids to really grow and learn about themselves and others. And usually, it is just so much fun! But it can be stressful for first time campers (and maybe even more so for the parents).
If you have a child going to overnight camp this summer, keep these tips in mind to make it an enjoyable and successful experience for both your camper and you.
- Become as familiar with the camp as possible. Review information about the camp on the website or through brochures or visit the camp at an open house before it starts. Share all of this information with your camper so the surroundings and schedule for the day don’t seem completely foreign and uncomfortable.Getting details such as if campers will have to walk to another building to use the bathroom and showers will help them plan for those late night visits to the bathroom with a handy flashlight. The more information you can share about the facilities with your child, the better.
- Discuss the highs and lows of camp. Setting expectations for camp is important. Kids may have a blast around the camp fire with friends one evening, but feel unhappy about a canoe trip the next day because they are uneasy about swimming in a lake. Explain that this is alright. Not every experience is going to be great, but it is helpful to acknowledge this and relate the experience to those the child has had at home. There were likely things the child liked and disliked during the school year. He or she can use the skills learned to cope with that experience to do the same at camp.
- Get them packing. Involve the camper in packing for camp. If they have things at camp that make them feel comfortable, it will be a less stressful experience. Be sure to use the provided list of what and what not to bring to camp. Include a little something from home that the camper picks out. Kids will feel ownership and excitement as they prepare what to bring. Remember to label everything, and it might be helpful to list everything that is going to camp and leave the list inside the bag/suitcase to make sure it all comes home.
- Decide how you’ll communicate while the camper is away. Some camps discourage phone calls to home, so email or letters become important. Maybe you want to give your child a little space, so you’ll only be in touch with him every few days, or maybe the camper wants to share all of the exciting activities with you each day. Whatever best suits your family and the camp’s policies, be sure to determine the frequency and manner of contact ahead of time so there is no disappointment.
- Practice living without you and with others. If your child is used to having you around to help clean up after them or find things for them, give her a trial run without you for a few days. Explain that wet clothes should be hung up to dry, a novel thought, I know. Show them how to keep their things organized so they aren’t bothering the other campers by leaving items all over the shared room.
- Don’t do the long sad goodbye. Dropping your child off at camp can be emotional. It is completely normal to have these feelings, but you don’t want your camper to feel uneasy about your sadness or guilty for leaving you alone for the summer. Try to save the burst of emotions for when you get back to the car.
Those students who are lucky enough to attend an overnight camp can gain a lot of self-confidence and incredible memories, even though it can be stressful the first time, preparing your child can make it a great experience!