Your child is about to experience the magic of overnight camp! Use this tip sheet to keep the stress out of your packing, planning and (sniffle) parting.
PART 1: PACKING
Tip: Involve your kid in the packing process! It’ll develop their independence, calm their nerves and build excitement, all at the same time
WHAT TO PACK
Start from your camp’s packing list. If camp says to bring an item, best to bring it. Be sure to remember:
- Pack on top, so bed-making is easy when your child arrives at camp.
- If you know your child sometimes has accidents, send extra bedding.
- A mesh “lingerie bag” or collapsible box to hold socks and underwear.
- Soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair products, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, wax for braces, brush/comb, sunscreen (the spray kind, so they’ll actually use it), insect repellent. Plus a container to hold it all that’s easily washable and drains.
- Feminine products, especially if your daughter is almost there (and if so, discuss with her first).
- Razor: Many girls start shaving with borrowed razors in “shaving parties,” so if you don’t want your daughter to use someone else’s razor, pack one.
- Games: travel-sized games, a deck of cards, Mad Libs, a small sketchpad and pencils, etc.
- Stationery, pre-addressed envelopes, stamps, writing utensils
- If they like to take pictures, send an inexpensive camera and batteries — because they won’t have a phone! Whether you go digital or disposable is up to you.
- Print out and pack family photos, including (and especially) photos of your pets. Kids find this particularly important their first time away.
- If your child has a “lovey” or security item, let them bring it.
- Container to stow all these non-clothing items.
Tip: Do a little labeling at a time or else the task can become overwhelming. Try labeling each item as you buy it.
LABEL EVERYTHING THAT GOES TO CAMP! CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITE METHOD:
- A black permanent marker works on just about everything. Use a silver permanent marker to label dark clothing or items.
- Order a personalized rubber stamper.
- Iron-on personalized labels can be a very durable choice, and are easiest to read, but this is the most time-consuming method (not to mention labor-intensive). Some companies sell stick-on labels that you can then iron, which makes the task easier.
WHAT NOT TO PACK
- Anything you can’t bear to get dirty, ruined or lost.
- Cell phone or any electronics except watches and digital cameras.
- Throw pillows. They will become nothing but aggravating bunk clutter.
- Any kind of home décor, unless otherwise instructed.
- Food of any kind. It will attract critters.
- Too much stuff. Bunks have limited storage.
PART 2: COMMUNICATION AT CAMP
Tip: Camps require kids to write letters once or twice a week — in part, to prevent parents from calling needlessly, because campers settle in most smoothly without phone contact from home. Remember that one of the gifts of overnight camp is allowing kids the space to become more independent. Write letters instead.
- Not every letter your child sends will be a masterpiece of prose. Kids usually write letters during an allotted letter-writing time, so if their letters are incomplete or short, don’t worry. A short letter is actually a good sign: It means they’re busy and having tons of fun.
- Sometimes their letters may be negative or talk about how they are upset. Before worrying, remember:Everyone has a rough day. By the time you receive the letter, your child’s problem or mood is likely well in the past.
- Some kids tend to save the bad stuff for their parents, unloading their frustrations and painting a different picture than they would with someone else. Does that describe your child?
- For those children away all summer, the sixth week of camp can present an emotional hurdle. It’s a mysterious Sixth Week phenomenon in which, for a day or two, kids can get sad, tense or emotional; any simmering conflicts at camp inevitably surface during Sixth Week. If you get a letter written during Sixth Week, don’t overthink it.
- When writing to your child, don’t say “We miss you sooo much” because it causes some kids to worry or
- feel guilty. But don’t say the opposite, either: “We went to Hawaii and are having the time of our lives!”
- The best letters from you contain quick anecdotes that make for a good story: Things you and your family did, something funny you heard, someone you bumped into, something cute your pet did.
- Ask all the questions you want in your letters, but don’t plan on getting answers.
- Check your camp’s guidelines before sending packages.
- Before smuggling that illegal chocolate bar into your child’s package, think: What lessons are you teaching them when you disregard the rules?
PHOTOS ON CAMP WEBSITES
- Looking at pictures on your camp’s social media pages is a fun way to “keep an eye” on your child. But as you study those photos like a Rorschach test, don’t jump to conclusions about their emotional states. Some kids don’t like to smile for the camera, no matter how good their mood. Others don’t like to stop an activity in order to pose for the camera. Others don’t stay still long enough to even appear in a photograph! Every child is different, so keep your child’s personality in mind.
WHEN TO CALL CAMP
- Emergencies: If the message truly cannot wait.
- If your emergency occurs in the middle of the night, use judgment as to whether to call immediately or wait until morning. For example, if a family member dies (G-d forbid), call immediately so the camp director is prepared and has your child ready for pick-up the next day. If the family dog dies, that call can wait until morning.
- If you are concerned for your child’s welfare. Did you get four sad letters in a row and it’s unlike them? Do you have reason to think they aren’t taking medication they need? Go ahead and call – but realize you may not hear back immediately. Camps are large and have limited phones.
PART 3: PREPARING YOUR CHILD (AND YOURSELF!) TO GO AWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME
Tip: Measure your child’s height before they go to camp. They will grow.
WAYS TO PREPARE YOUR KID FOR CAMP
- Teach them to do some things independently, like making their bed, brushing their hair or folding their clothes.
- Medical and emotional issues:If your child wets the bed, prepare them AND camp for the possibility.
- If your child takes daily medicine, prepare them AND camp to receive it. However, if your child will be taking a “vacation” from medicine over the summer, think through how that will affect your child’s experience – and, again, communicate with camp.
Lastly, remember: While your child is away at camp, they will be having a great time. So should you! Make the most of this opportunity to spend time on yourself. Go on date nights, see a movie with friends, take an exercise class or visit an art museum; if you have other children at home, spend quality time with them. You’ll be glad you did.