Introduce your child to sleepaway camp gradually.
It’s probably no surprise that successful sleepaway camp summers begin with successful day camp summers. Day camps provide younger children with the opportunity to experience everything camp has to offer while still allowing them the comfort of sleeping at home at night. It’s no surprise, therefore, that a lot of parents choose to gradually prepare their children for sleepaway camp by first sending them to day camp. Although day camp is not a prerequisite, by any means, for sleepaway camp, if your child is still young enough to reap the benefits of day camp prior to his or her first summer at sleepaway camp, now is a good time to enroll. Likewise, let your child’s maturity level, not his or her age, serve as your guide for determining when he or she is ready for sleepaway camp. Some children are ready for sleepaway camp at 7 or 8 years old. Others may need another year or two. It really depends on the individual child. It is important, regardless of at what age you feel your child is ready, that you do not send him or her to sleepaway camp before he or she is ready.
Set goals for the summer.
Arriving at camp with goals in mind helps children adapt more quickly to the camp environment and remain focused throughout the summer. Goals also serve as a touchstone on those days when campers need a bit of extra encouragement and provide a level of measure for progress between arrival and departure days. As well, they are the perfect conversation or letter starter for phone calls and letters and can ultimately help your child relate a sense of accomplishment to his or her summer camp experience.
Send your child to camp with an open mind and an open attitude.
Try not to focus too heavily on specific experiences or expectations. While it’s good to have goals, it’s equally beneficial not to focus too heavily on one area of camp as the measure of a successful summer. Encourage your children to try new things at camp. Emphasize the possibilities of the coming summer rather than the shortcomings of the previous one. Remind your children that often the best camp moments are the ones that aren’t anticipated.
Most view packing as a chore to be completed as quickly and painlessly as possible. But success at camp begins with being properly prepare and being properly prepared means being properly packed. Packing, therefore, is not a task to take lightly. Review your camp’s packing list and make sure your child has the recommended amount of each item. Pack for comfort and fun. Your children will engage in activities from early in the morning until late at night each day. Their clothes will get dirty. It’s important that what makes it into your children’s camp bags allows them freedom of comfort through movement in a variety of sports and other activities while leaving you room to review photos of paint stains, ice cream stains, slushie stains, icing stains, dirt stains, wax stains, marker stains, water stains, and just about anything else you can think of stains without cringing or having nightmares about the cleaning bill. And don’t forget to pack “evening attire” (aka fun stuff). Camp doesn’t end after dinner. Every night brings new and exciting special events and evening activities, pretty much all which promote the silly, whacky, crazy, outrageous, and fabulous. Aside from clothing, sturdy age and size appropriate sporting equipment is also key to your campers’ usurping the most of their camping experience.
Emphasize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition.
There is food a plenty at camp. In addition to camp meals, there are snacks, birthday parties, trips to the canteen, the local ice cream stand, pizza place, cooking classes, etc. While menus are designed to provide campers with the fuel to keep them going on busy days and camp staff are present to mediate at meal and snack times, it’s important to emphasize the need to balance treats with proper nutrition and to encourage your children to engage in camp activities that involve physical conditioning and exercise as well as those that are a bit more laid back and relaxed. Also stress the importance of staying hydrated and invest in a good water bottle.
Send your campers to camp with the right attitude toward authority figures.
Collectively, the camp staff takes on a parental role during the summer. They are, in effect, you while your child is at camp. Explaining this to your campers lays the groundwork for a smooth transition of authority from the parental arm to the camp one and deters camper/staff tensions during the summer.
Remind your campers that they may not accomplish all of their goals in a single summer, and that’s okay.
In context of a full year, summer camp takes place within a very brief, concentrated period of time. Campers easily become tempted to overindulge or may become overwhelmed when they are unable to keep up with their own expectations. Remind your children that summer camp is a special place intended to provide them with the opportunity to relax away from the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life. Encourage them to enjoy those things that make camp unique, such as the rural setting, camp specific activities, or exclusive facilities. Stress that sleepaway camp is a singular tradition through which they can create memories and make friends that will last a lifetime. And if they fall short of any of their goals this summer, for all but the oldest campers, there is always next summer.
Review your camp’s camper policies and behavioral expectations with your children.
Your camp will provide you with a list of policies and guidelines that outline behavioral expectations for campers as well as their families. Review these carefully with your campers so that they understand what is expected of them prior to arriving at camp. Stress that the camp must put such rules into place in order to create a fun environment in which everyone is and feels safe.
Encourage your child to make at least one new friend over the summer.
For some children, making friends is as easy as waking up in the morning. For others, the task is a little more daunting. Stress that the openness of the camp environment creates an atmosphere of acceptance that is a little bit different from school, where social structures tend to be a bit more rigid. And that camp friends are special friends with whom they will always have camp in common.
Let your children know that it’s okay to have a less than perfect day and that sometimes they may miss home, but that’s no reason to pack their bags and call it quits.
It’s not unusual for campers to arrive at camp with such high expectations for the summer that one bad day, one small scuffle with a camp friend or bunkmate, one misunderstood communication with a counselor can leave them feeling discouraged and calling or writing home in tears. It’s also not unusual, particularly for younger campers, to get a bit homesick every now and then. Be honest with your children. Let them know that every day might not be the best day ever and that it’s okay to miss home every now and then. But that doesn’t mean that they’re having a bad summer or that they can’t turn things around. Remind them that they choose their attitude every day. If they let one very small moment become a big one that defines their summer, they’re robbing themselves of lots of opportunities to experience something really great that may completely turn what started out as a bad day–or even a bad summer–around.