Sending your child to their first year at camp can seem a little daunting, especially if it’s also their first time away from home. It may be something that is a little outside of the comfort zone of both your child and you as a parent. However, there are some easy ways to prepare your child for their first summer at camp that can make the transition easier for both of you.
Share Camp-Provided Information with your Child
The easiest and best way to prepare yourself and your child for camp is by reading and/or watching the materials provided by the camp. When you receive the camp information pack, whether by mail or email, read it over yourself and with your child. These packs often contain rules for campers, information about facilities and activities, important policies, and packing lists. Knowing about all that beforehand can relieve a little of the pre-camp jitters for your child, and answer any questions you as a parent may have about the camp. Furthermore, if you haven’t already, take a look at your camp’s website. Oftentimes there will be more in-depth information about the camp and more photos or videos of what it’s like there to help your camper imagine themselves in the camp setting and give you a better idea of where your child will be spending time.
Don’t Question the Packing List
Most, if not all, summer camps provide a detailed packing list of items your child will need as well as optional items and some they should not bring at all. These lists have been created from numerous summers of experience with campers and their needs while at camp. The list says bring a jacket? Pack a jacket even if the weather looks hot. If it says to bring sturdy tennis shoes, don’t send them with that old pair of thin-fabric shoes that their big toe is poking out of. The items on there are often added for your child’s comfort or safety.
Sometimes the items on the packing list seem out of the ordinary, like ‘an old rug’ or ‘an old, white pillow case that you don’t care about’. Despite seeming unnecessary or strange, these can end up being essential items for daily use or for a special camp activity. At Camp Natoma, kids place old rugs next to their cots so that they have something other than dirt to stand on when they wake up in the morning. And old pillow cases may be used to capture the signatures of campsite members as a lasting memento to take home.
Similarly, camps often include items that campers should NOT bring. Some of them are no-brainers, like weapons, but others may seem harmless. Our camp is screen-free and outside, so some huge ones we ask parents not to pack are electronic devices, open-toed shoes, and food. Yet, every summer some of our campers end up getting a device stolen, tripping over their flip-flops and scraping a knee, or waking up to ants or other critters in their suitcases because of packing an item that was asked to be excluded from their bags. Set your child up for success and follow the packing list.
Homesickness Doesn’t Exist
“If you get homesick, you can always give us a call.”
“You only need to make it through two days, then if you’re still homesick we can come pick you up.”
These are a couple of the common phrases I have heard parents say to their kids before they send them off to camp for the first time. Now obviously, homesickness is a real feeling and very much exists, but many parents unwittingly make a first-year camper’s experience harder by simply talking about homesickness before camp. This is especially true when it comes to young campers who have never been away from their parents more than a night or two and may not have homesickness in their vocabulary yet. You as a parent have the power to set your child up for success by omitting the word ‘homesickness’ before sending them to camp.
When kids get the idea of homesickness in their head, some dwell on being away from home rather than participating in activities or forming friendships. They can get stuck on the idea of the phone call or ride home that their parents promised and choose to remain in the state of ‘homesickness’ until that promise is fulfilled. Additionally, accommodating those parent promises often disrupts the experience of both the camper and staff members who are pulled from their daily schedules, and may not even be possible. Many residential camps have policies in place that do not allow departing camp early except for in the case of emergencies or prior arrangements made with the Camp Director.
So, rather than focusing on the word homesickness or making promises that may not be able to be fulfilled, have a conversation with your child explaining that it’s normal to miss home and provide them with a coping mechanism for when those feelings come up. Many campers at Camp Natoma come prepared with stuffies to hug, pre-addressed envelopes and stamps to send letters home, or their favorite picture of their loved ones. It can also be helpful to let your child know how much you support them going to camp and how excited you are for them to make new friends and learn new skills. Missing parents or home is normal, but the overall excitement of new friendships and experiences at camp is usually enough to keep campers’ minds off of missing home. And if they do, camp staff members are trained to help them process the sad emotions while also empowering them to participate and build confidence in their independence.