Guest Post: 5 Tips for Preparing the Whole Family for Summer Camp
More than 11 million children attend summer camp in the United States every year. For these kids, summer camp is an exciting and empowering experience that provides them with opportunities to develop their teamwork skills, practice goal setting, navigate relationships and discover nature. As Camp Corral’s COO, I have the pleasure of providing a safe and fun environment for the children of our nation’s military families in which they find a supportive community of friends, develop skills that build confidence and gain tools for coping with the challenges they face at home, all during a week at camp with children who face similar realities.
As a parent, you may find that many questions cross your mind as you prepare to send your child off to camp and you’re likely not sure who is more anxious, them or you? Will they make friends? What if they don’t like the food? Will they keep up with all their belongings? Did I pack everything they’ll need? Will they wear enough sunscreen?
Whether this is your child’s first time going to summer camp or their third, preparation is key. This experience provides an opportunity for growth and change that is shared and should be embraced by the entire family. Here are my thoughts on the top five things that, if you pay special attention to, will make a true difference for your family during the camp stay.
Familiarity with the camp
Understanding who and what will make up the camp adventure is an important first step to easing your family’s angst. Visit the camp’s website. Most camps love to show off what makes their camp great! Make it a family activity to watch the camp video, read the frequently asked questions, check out staff profiles and review the different activities that will be available at camp. The more you familiarize your child with the place they will call home for a week, the better they will feel when they arrive.
Make a list of questions together and send an email or call the camp office. Believe me, they have answered every question a parent or child has had. Even returning campers can benefit from this.
Campers from all over the country share their experiences of what it means to be a Camp Corral camper. If you visit the Camp Corral Facebook page, you will find stories from our campers and parents that will help you understand the environment of the camp. Plus, after watching a camp video, I promise even the most anxious campers will want to pack their bags immediately.
Every camp has perfected their packing list; print it off and have your child follow along as you pack. This will allow them to see what items are being packed as well as get them excited for camp. When a child is suddenly sharing a cabin with other kids it’s best that they’re familiar with the items for which they are responsible, so don’t rush out to get them a brand-new wardrobe. They should pack their favorites: shirts, shorts, caps, blankets, even underwear. Seeing their own blanket on their bed or wearing one of their favorite shirts will give them a sense of comfort.
Also, write your child’s name in everything! Don’t use their initials or just their last name. They may be familiar with the items but will still need to be reminded that the dirty shirt on the floor belongs to them.
Most importantly, don’t be concerned when they come home and only wore half of the clothes you sent with them. They had fun!
Now that you have had your virtual camp experience and packed their bags, how do you answer the question: “Mom, will miss me?” You get a knot in your throat and struggle for the response, knowing you will miss them much more than they will miss you.
This is the time to discuss with your child how you plan to stay in touch and set the expectations for their stay at camp. Camp is a time to unplug, make sure you help your child know what this means and reassure them that, if necessary, you will be able to call the camp. Prepare pre-addressed post cards for them to send you from camp. Also, most camps allow parents to sign up to send emails that are printed off each day and put in their camper’s mailbox.
When communicating with your child, keep all your correspondence very positive and open-ended. This will prompt them to report back on their experiences when they write you. For example:
“Johnathan, when we took you to camp, we noticed the wonderful lake there. I bet that has been fun and refreshing this week. Have you had a chance to go kayaking in it? We miss you, but we’re happy knowing you are having so much fun and making new friends. We will see you on Friday at lunch time and can’t wait to meet all your new friends.”
Another question that challenges even the best of parents is “Dad, I don’t know anyone going, what if I don’t make any friends?” Not knowing anyone when arriving at camp can make even the most extroverted child hide behind their parents. At Camp Corral, the magic is that every child there already has something in common.
Remind your child that they will be able to share stories and experiences with their cabin mates that they may not always be comfortable sharing with their friends at school. Plus, the counselors will facilitate teambuilding activities and the week is full of activities where they’ll make memories to last a lifetime. Before arriving at camp, help your child learn ways to introduce themselves to their new friends. “Where are you from? What grade are you in?” Have you been to camp before?” “I’m a little nervous to climb the rock wall, will you go with me?” Believe me, they may be a nervous mess when you drop them off at camp, but by the time you return to pick them up, they will be crying over leaving their friends – it’s a wonderful thing!
Appreciation for the time apart
Every year, we receive wonderful letters from parents saying that their child had a great time at Camp Corral, and that they too enjoyed the extra time they got to spend doing things for which they usually can’t make time. If your children know you are having fun while they’re away, they will have fun. They will be excited to allow you that opportunity to have fun while they do so too. When you come together at the end of the week you can all share your “camp stories” on the ride home.
Don’t forget to remind yourself that camp helps children grow by providing them a well-supervised, positive camp experience in an environment that is both natural and safe.
The experience is better for everyone when families have taken the time to prepare for camp. Your child will benefit from the memories, supportive relationships and skills they’ve gained. They’ll also learn that they can have a great time while being away from home, and that’s okay!
These are just a few things that make the transition from home to camp easier for all. The most important thing to remember is to make sure your child understands they can always have an open and comfortable conversation with you – whether it’s about camp or anything else.
Leigh Longino is a former Camp Corral board member and currently serves as COO. She has 20 years of experience in camp programming and operations. She has served in various positions within the YMCA managing program development, risk management and staff development. Leigh has three daughters.