Adventure Time: Preparing Your First-Timer for Summer Camp
Sleep-away camp is a step toward independence for both kids and, let's face it, parents. For all you first-timers, here’s your guide to preparing your kid and yourself for this big, fun, exciting occasion. Next stop, college! Kidding!
We checked in with local camp pros Emily Wernsdorfer and Joe Gill of Ferncliff Camp and Brianna Sellers of Camp Aldersgate to get their wisdom on what you and your camper-to-be can do together as you prepare for the big week.
Talking About It
The first camp to-do isn’t packing. Talking to your kid about camp is priority one.
Refresh Your Perspective: When talking about camp, Gill says reframing is key. “You're not 'sending your child away' to camp, rather 'you're giving them the chance to explore and grow' at a really neat place with some amazing people.” This is a great chance to share some of your camp stories. Focus on things you learned or independence you gained during your own summers away.
Recognize the Butterflies: Don’t shy away from tough feelings, Wernsdorfer suggests. “It's a great idea to discuss any fears or anxieties and reassure your camper that camp is a safe, fun, exciting place.” When your homesick camper stays all week, she can use her new-found knowledge of what she is capable of and apply it as she enters the next grade and phase. You will both be proud!
Set Up for Success: You also have the opportunity to set a great foundation for conversations to come. “I'd encourage parents to ask their campers what they hope to do, experience or learn at camp. Then you can follow up and ask about those specific things after the week is over,” Wernsdorfer says. Remembering to ask about that cave exhibition or canoe race will show your camper that you were listening and invested in their experience. Parenting win.
Encourage Kindness: Sellers aptly pinpoints the heart of camp: making friends. “Teach your camper to make new friends by asking about others’ interests and being a good listener.” Remind your kid that camp will offer the chance to get to know people who will probably be a bit different than his friends and family back home. If he can remember kindness, Sellers says, “This is your child’s opportunity to create friendships that will last a lifetime!”
Packing Pro Tips
Once you’re mentally prepared, it’s time to make a master checklist and start packing. Again, our camp experts share their practical know-how with us.
Pack Together: “That way campers know where everything is!” suggests Wernsdorfer. Genius. And it’s a great way to start encouraging more responsibility before camp begins.
Label Everything: You’ve been doing this since preschool, and you can’t stop now. Every camper will have spare socks and shirts that will try to make a break for it.
Include Comfort: “You might include a comfort object such as a cherished stuffed animal,” suggests Sellers. “Bedtime tends to be the most difficult time of day for homesick campers.”
Skip Screens: “We ask that campers leave their phones (and tablets and laptops) at home for the week,” says Wernsdorfer. Camp is a time to unplug and enjoy friendship and the great outdoors.
Include a List: “Put a copy of the packing list in the bag after you've finished packing,” suggests Wernsdorfer. This and labeling increases the chance that what you pack will come back. (Be sure to check out Little Rock Family's Summer Camp Packing Checklist!)
Remember Special Considerations: Don’t forget any medical information or supplies. With plenty of experience with special needs campers, Sellers adds EpiPens, emergency inhalers, wheelchair chargers and labeled medications to the list.
Leave It at Home: Gill chimed in with the biggest packing takeaway: “Please don't send anything that you'd be upset if it got lost, damaged or dirty.” Pack the towels that you’ve had since college and Goodwill T-shirts to lower the possibility of your kid misplacing a family keepsake.
Showing You Care
Mail call is a camp highlight! Make your camper a happy camper with these letter and care package tips.
Leave Loving Letters: You can actually work ahead on this one. Sellers makes a brilliant suggestion to drop off pre-written letters labeled with dates during registration. This saves you money on postage and guarantees that your camper will get some mail love every day of the week.
Care Package Dos & Don’ts
Don’t: Include any kind of food. “These items can bring in critters to the cabins and may contain allergens that could affect another camper,” Gill says.
Do: Go for fun games and activities to share! UNO and Mad Libs are always a hit!