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Summer is coming and, with it, the opportunity for your child to experience nature, camping, sports, and a teamwork experience in a setting away from home. To help prepare both of you for this time apart, here are some helpful guidelines to follow.

The first question to ask is whether your child is emotionally ready to attend camp. If he or she has never spent an evening or weekend away from parents, siblings and pets, the idea of two weeks in the woods with a group of total strangers can be traumatic. Well in advance of any camping adventure, “test the waters” with a couple of neighborhood overnights or perhaps an out of town visit to relatives.

Invite your child’s participation in picking the kind of camp he or she would like to go to. Park and recreation districts, as well as church and youth organizations, offer a wide variety of summer programs and activities for young people every year. By asking what kind of things they would like to do or learn in the camp setting (as well as whether these activities should be co-ed), you can collect the requisite brochures and applications and study them together before making a firm decision.
Does your child have a classmate or neighborhood friend who will be going to the same camp? If so, can arrangements be made for them to share the same tent or cabin? The notion of being away from home is far less frightening if there’s at least one familiar face!

Has an older sibling or neighbor’s offspring attended the same facility or one that is similar? While every child’s experience is going to be different, it’s reassuring to hear that someone else has actually been there/done that and not been eaten by bears!

Are visitations allowed at the camp prior to its official opening? Just seeing what the place looks like can give a youngster confidence, much like the practice of taking your child on a “walking tour” of a new school before the first day of class. In the same vein, is it possible to meet any of the counselors or camp administrators in advance? You are, after all, entrusting your child’s care and well being to these people for “x” amount of time. Don’t you want to know who they are?

Make a list and check it twice! It’s never too early to start teaching your children how to pack a bag for vacation, a skill which will come in handy when they’re adults. Since half the fun of any trip is in the planning, have them make a list of everything they are taking and check each item off as it is packed. The list should then be packed as well, so that your child will be sure to bring home everything that was taken instead of leaving personal belongings strewn all over the campgrounds!
Prepare a special “care package” and, if you like, slip it into your child’s backpack as a surprise. Items to include would be a family photograph or two, special snacks, stationery and postage stamps, a blank journal, and perhaps a disposable camera for capturing camp memories.

Before your child leaves for camp, make sure there is an understanding about how often—or how little—you will have contact with each other. Policies vary from camp to camp as to whether regular, prearranged phone calls are allowed or if communication is only permitted in event of emergency. In the same vein, it should also be discussed that they are committed to stay at camp for the full duration (barring accident or illness), thus instilling the lesson of always finishing what one starts.
The night before camp, plan a special send-off dinner for your first-time camper. A welcome-back meal should then be orchestrated for his or her return home, at which time the rest of the family can be regaled with stories about the nature hikes, cook-outs, fireside songs, and beating the rival camp in softball.

While the experience of summer camp may not turn your child into a rugged outdoorsman or zealous conservationist, you as the parent need to remember that this is not the primary purpose. The purpose is to enable your child to hone skills not necessarily acquired at home, to participate in both team and leadership roles, and—most of all—to have a stretch of glorious fun before summer begins its inevitable descent…into that dreaded first week of September!