Preparing To Send Your Child To Overnight Summer Camp

Once you have registered for camp, you will be given a packet of information. It may include a packing list, general rules, and a list of forms campers need to bring (physical from the doctor, etc.) Here are 8 additional things to remember to help you prepare to send your child to overnight summer camp:

  1. Talking to your kids – You may want to prepare your children for what they can expect at camp. For example, do they know where they will be sleeping? Are the showers in another building? Address the potential for homesickness. They should understand what the rules are and that they are expected to follow them.
  2. Go to the Doctor – The camp may require that you show proof of certain shots or that your child had a physical. Make the appointment as soon as possible. There will be lots of kids in the neighborhood that need to do the same thing.
  3. Read the packing list twice – Many camps will include a list of what NOT to pack. If they only allow prescription medications, don’t pack over the counter allergy medication unless you talk to the camp first. It will be taken away. There should be a medical facility on site and they probably have something your child can take. You can pack items that aren’t on the list like books, flashlights, extra batteries, laundry bag, or a camera (the do not pack list may include cell phones). If you are concerned about them making friends, pack something that they can share like hair ties or nail polish. A t-shirt from their school can be used a conversation starter as well. Don’t pack anything that you would be disappointed not get back. Things will get lost or destroyed.
  4. Label Anything it will stick to – Put a label with your child’s name on everything. Items will be exchanged and tossed with other kids’ stuff. The only hope you have of getting back most of what you sent is if it has a label.
  5. Care Packages and Letters – The packet of information from the camp should explain their policies for sending care packages. Make sure you and anyone else that may send one know what they are so it doesn’t get returned. You may have limited communication with your child so writing letters to each other will be important. Keep it light. You don’t want them to worry if something is going on at home. Tell them that you miss them but remember you want them to have a great time and not feel homesick.
  6. Your kids are all right – Many camps update their website or Facebook page with pictures throughout the summer. Your child will not be in all of them. You will know if there is a problem or if they aren’t having a good time. Chances are they were playing somewhere else when the picture was taken.
  7. Is this the same kid I dropped off? – Camp can change a kid. Be prepared to pick up a child who was shy at the beginning of the summer and is outgoing now. Maybe they were afraid of heights but they can’t stop talking about how much they loved the zip line. Camp programs and activities encourage campers to try new things and celebrate even the smallest accomplishments. Be ready to celebrate them again!
  8. Summer Forever! – Hopefully your child had the time of their life and maybe even met their soulmate. They are going to miss it. You can remind them that summer friends don’t have to be only when school is out. It’s easy to stay in touch and they can make plans for a reunion.

Camp Types Explained

There are many different types of camps that offer a wide variety of options. You can find an overnight or a day camp for most of the camp types. Here is some information to help you decide which camp is right for your child:

  • Traditional/General – Traditional/General camps offer a little bit of everything like team sports, swimming, boating, fishing, archery, performing arts, arts and crafts, music, dance, hiking, wilderness adventure, and rock climbing. Programs can be structured, semi-elective, or elective. A structured schedule is prearranged. Semi-elective is where the camper has some choice in activities. Elective means the camper decides their entire schedule.
  • Academic – Academic camps focus on specific areas of study designed to either improve grades or explore the sciences. Some examples of what academic camps offer are: ESL, STEM, SAT Prep, Foreign Languages, Tutoring, Study Skills, Biology, Computer Gaming, General Science, Rocketry, Robotics, and Physics. The schedule is usually structured and can be rigorous. Many camps also have fun activities to give kids time to rest and play. They may have team sports, horseback riding, hiking, and arts and crafts.
  • Arts – Arts camps can specialize in Dance, Music, Performing Arts, Creative Arts, Technical Theatre, Painting, and Visual Arts. Many are held in theaters, on college campuses, and dance companies. The programs are normally exclusive to the art. Many are for children who have some experience. There may be auditions required.
  • Religious – Religious camps are predominately Christian, Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian. Religious camps can also be traditional/general camps. This means they offer the same activities as a traditional camp with a focus on a specific religion.
  • Sports Specialty – Sports specialty camps usually focus on one sport. There is extensive instruction and campers spend most of their time playing or learning about the sport. Some examples of sports specialties are Football, Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, Horseback Riding, Cheerleading, Gymnastics, Lacrosse, Softball, Golf, and Tennis.
  • Wilderness Adventure – Wilderness Adventure camps are usually overnight and can last anywhere from a couple of days to a month or longer. It is usually in a forest or a mountainous area. Campers sleep in tents and sleeping bags. Some of the activities are: Backpacking, Hiking, Camping, Rock Climbing, White Water Rafting, Survival Skills Training, Canoe trips, and Mountain Biking.
  • Community Service – Community Service camps offer programs for kids to get involved in helping local communities. Some camps offer enrichment credits towards graduation. Campers can live in the community they are helping. It is normally labor intensive and includes things like building houses, installing water systems, farming, engineering, animal care, and nature preservation.
  • Special Needs – Special Needs is a broad term that is used to separate traditional and specialty camps from those that cater to specific needs. A special need includes but is not limited to: Diabetes, Cancer, Autism, Physical Disability, HIV/AIDS, Cerebral Palsey, ADD/ADHD, Weight Loss, Underprivileged, Grief/Loss, and LGBTQ. Similar to traditional camps, they offer activities such as horseback riding, swimming, climbing, team sports, and arts and crafts. Depending on the special need, the camp may offer education for kids and their families specific to the need. They may also have group therapy sessions or one on one counseling. If the camp specializes in disease or physical disabilities, there are most likely nurses or doctors on site as well as medical facilities. Some camps have an approval process. This may mean filling out an application, providing medical documents, or speaking directly to their admissions personnel.

Why Summer Camp Is A Big Deal

Summer Camp may be over in August, but the lessons and skills learned last a lifetime. Here are just a few ways summer camp can change your child’s life:

  • Friendship – If you ask any adult about the summer camp friends they made, many will tell you that those friendships were among their truest and deepest. It shouldn’t surprise you if they are still friends today.  The reason is because doing just about everything together forces kids to bond, and get to know each other for who they really are. They play sports, dance, make bracelets, go camping, and sleep in the same cabin. They sit at a camp fire singing, planning color war strategies, sharing stories in their bunks, and can be silly without the threats of peer pressure. These are the friends that you can rely on in 20 years when you need them the most.
  • Self Confidence – Camp activities are planned to encourage kids to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. It’s done in a non-competitive environment where trying is rewarded more often than winning. Kids often find that they like something they didn’t think they would. They also learn new skills and see their potential. As the summer progresses, they will be less reluctant to climb the tower that scared them when they first saw it.  They will jump into the lake without worrying if something lurks beneath or care if it’s cold. They will want to keep learning new skills and improving on others. These achievements will fuel the knowledge that they can succeed.
  • Social Skills – Meeting new people and making friends can be scary for some kids. At camp, they find they aren’t the only ones who feel that way. They are guided by counselors, but more importantly, they end up helping each other. They are around other kids their age the entire time they are at camp and need to learn how to get along and resolve conflicts. Camps take bullying very seriously. It is simply not tolerated. Kids learn that everyone’s opinion matters and that it’s not a bad thing when it is different from their own. Having an open mind and accepting others will help kids throughout their life when they are in situations that require patience and understanding.
  • Independence – Kids are given a lot of responsibility at camp. They may have chores like cleaning their cabin, or cooking a meal. Some camps have uniforms kids are required to wear. They need to be on time. They are expected to adhere to the conduct rules. They are responsible for following a schedule. Many camps offer activity choices so kids can decide how they want to spend their time. All of this will be valuable when they go away to college or live on their own for the first time.  When they get a job, they will have the discipline to help them succeed.
  • Physical Activity – With no computer games or cell phones, kids keep busy with physical activity. They go from soccer to swimming and then off to archery or a hike in the woods all in the same day. There are no buses or cars to take them around the facility. They walk, run, or skip to get there. They are also fed wholesome meals to help keep them going. Both physical activity and eating well contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
  • Stress Relief – At every age we need to find ways to decompress, rejuvenate our spirit, and work through the stress in our lives. At camp, kids learn different methods of relieving stress. It may be found in the freedom of running around outside playing. Realizing that hiking through a natural forest listening to the sounds of the river below is calming. Trying a yoga class and learning how to breathe can slow or eliminate anxiety. Focusing on the upcoming talent show can take your mind off what is causing the stressful feelings. At camp these tools are taught in such a way that kids don’t even realize the connection. They just know that they are happy and not stressed. This is a feeling they want to hold on to so they continue doing it throughout their lives.

No Cell Phones Allowed! Really?

Sending your children to sleepaway camp, especially for the first time, is hard enough, but not being able to call or text? How will you make it through the summer?  It’s true that most camps, including day camps, ban cell phones. It is listed among the items NOT to bring. Your fears and concerns are understandable, but you will still be able to connect with your kids.

We are so used to being able to call or text anyone in seconds that the thought of not being able to do that with your kids over the summer can be truly frightening. How many times have you texted your child and then start to panic when they don’t respond right away?  We all need to know that our children are safe and being cared for. Well, you can do it without a cell phone. Here are a few tips and reminders that will hopefully ease your concerns:

  • You will be able to talk to your kids – Day campers will tell you all about it as soon as they get home. You will also have access to their schedule so you know what activities are planned. If they are away, you can call the camp. You can speak with their counselor or the camp director if you need to. Your children will also be able to call you if they want to get in touch.
  • Check the camp’s website for photos – Many camps post pictures daily on their website. When choosing a camp, add this to the list of questions you ask.
  • Write letters to each other – Sleepaway camps encourage campers to write home. They will tell you about what they have been up to and the friends they have made. You can also write letters to tell them that you love and miss them. If you are worried that they may be homesick, tell them it will be okay, have fun!
  • Speaking of fun, that’s why they are at camp – It’s important to remind yourself why you wanted them to go to camp in the first place. You want them to have fun! You want them to make new friends and have the experience of a lifetime. You are fortunate to have the ability to this for your children. Help them take advantage of this opportunity by letting them play outside and interact with other kids without a screen in front of them. They will improve their social skills and increase their self-confidence.
  • Do your homework – Deciding which camp to send your children to can be overwhelming. There are thousands to choose from. Take the time to figure out what you want for your kids in a summer camp before you start searching. As you begin to narrow it down and look at different camps, write down any concerns and questions that need to be answered. Camp directors and owners are happy to talk to you and tell you how they will address your concerns. They have heard it all and should already have plans and procedures in place.
  • It’s me, not them – Do your kids want to talk or text with you all day? You probably need it more than they do. Let them be kids. Let them unwind and unplug. Summer is for escaping the demands of school and peer pressure. Camp allows them to be in a place dedicated to helping kids feel good about themselves.

Helping Staff Live The Camp Mission

You have carefully chosen who to hire this summer and now that the new staff has arrived they are going to be inundated with information. They must be thoroughly trained and tested however, their success goes beyond safety procedures and conduct. The training curriculum probably includes detailed information about the camp’s mission. It’s important that the mission is visible in every action a staff member takes.  Here are some tips for helping new and returning staff understand and follow the mission:

  • Be the role model – As a director or owner you set the tone. You lead by example. If part of your mission is to have a nurturing environment, you should also be nurturing. It may seem like an obvious statement, but it’s important to remember that someone is probably paying attention to what you are doing more often than you may think. As a leader, having a momentary lack of judgement or losing your cool can be very serious and negatively impact the staff and campers.
  • Show yourself – Part of being a good leader is making time for your staff. Don’t spend the day in the office. Get out and talk to the staff. Listen to what they have to say. The more connected they are with you the more likely they will follow you. This directly impacts their willingness to support the camp’s mission. If you believe it, they will too if they know you are on their side.
  • It may not be a dream job – Many people that choose to work at a camp interacting with children all day want to be there. They love it and return summer after summer. For others, it may be just a job or it isn’t what they expected. It’s important to keep this in mind if you have a staff member who isn’t enthusiastic about supporting the camp’s mission. This is when being hands on and listening are crucial. You can try to understand why they don’t seem to be on board and help them enjoy being part of the camp community. Not just for the mission, but for themselves.
  • Peers can help – Staff members that believe and follow the mission can be very helpful. Peer to peer conversations can make a huge difference. People tend to open up more to a peer and share their true feelings. Peers also know how to interact with each other in ways no one else can. If you have a staff member that is struggling, ask one of their peers to try and help. They can turn it around.