Time to prepare your children for summer camp

Unless you invest time and energy first, your child’s initial excitement can turn into anxiety.

 Mark the first day of camp on the calendar and count down together (Illustrative). (photo credit: Artem Kniaz/Unsplash)
Mark the first day of camp on the calendar and count down together (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Artem Kniaz/Unsplash)

One of the greatest adventures for children can be going away to summer camp. It is an opportunity to make new friends, meet new challenges and take the first tentative steps in being independent.

The success of the venture depends a lot on how you prepare them and take steps ahead of time to prevent homesickness, which can mar their enjoyment. Unless you invest time and energy first, your child’s initial excitement can turn into anxiety.

By the age of 10, most kids have mastered separation in short intervals like sleep-overs, but assess your child’s readiness for a longer period. They should be able to manage their personal hygiene, such as grooming, bathing and changing clothes. Bed-wetting should not necessarily rule out overnight camps, but camp staff should be aware of the issue and arrangements made to maintain their dignity. You need to make sure that your child has had several positive experiences spending the night away from home, either at a relative’s or a friend’s house.

The child should be allowed to help select the camp based on their own special interests. Together, browse camp websites, look at videos and brochures or attend open houses. Try to find others who have been there before and listen to their experiences. The camp should reflect your child’s interests, whether it’s horseback riding, science, athletics, music or art. If a friend is going, that’s a big plus.

 Campers and staff gather around the bonfire at Camp Manitowa, the host site of Camp Indigo Point. (credit: DAN GRABEL) Campers and staff gather around the bonfire at Camp Manitowa, the host site of Camp Indigo Point. (credit: DAN GRABEL)

Mark it on a calendar

Mark the first day of camp on the calendar and count down together. If you enjoyed camp as a child, recount your own happy memories. Get excited with your child and make a big deal out of developing a checklist of items for camp and gather them together. Don’t forget to pack their favorite books, music, games and family photos.

It’s important to try to avert homesickness, which can rob children of this valuable experience, which boosts their independence and self-esteem. Don’t promise to pick them up early if they are homesick because nothing will cause them to be more preoccupied about home than the idea they can go home. Instead, meet the staff, inspect their bunk and walk with them around the grounds admiring whatever you can. Keep goodbyes short, all the time being positive and encouraging. Usually, even the most tearful, clingy camper will be off and socializing soon after the parents leave.

To maintain the family connection, it’s a good idea to send a few letters several days before arrival to camp, so your child has mail on the first day. Pack some fun paper, stamped/addressed envelopes and a pen so that your child can write back. Send some care packages because mail call is an exciting, hopeful event for every camper.

While your child is away, don’t schedule a significant family event, as they will be very disappointed at missing a special celebration. And when they return home, show an interest in their camp stories and the new skills they have mastered. Quickly print pictures and create a scrapbook. Help them maintain the friendships they developed at camp using email, letters or phone calls, especially to connect with those who live far away.

When summer camp is a positive experience, it will boost their independence and self-esteem, and help them mature, be adventurous and develop self-reliance. 

The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. [email protected]