Prepping Kids for Summer Camp

31 May 2023

Every child is unique and not all are ready for away camp at the same age, if ever.  Start by listening to what they talk about.  If they hear of a summer camp and seem excited, then you can probe further.  A good option is day camp, where the child is gone for an entire day but stays in the city, often in the same neighborhood.  If your kid has never spent a night away from home or parents, there is a good chance they are not yet ready for a sleepaway.

The next step is to choose the best fit for your child.  There are many variables.  Start with how long you want them to be away.  Some range from a few days to a few weeks.  There are traditional camps as well as special interest groups like a particular sport, music, or other interest.  Check the ACA website.  Get started early and don’t hesitate to contact other parents.

Before making a final decision, check references, accreditation, safety procedures, and other protocols.  Ask about all of the activities the children will be offered.  For instance, just because it is a music camp doesn’t mean there won’t be swimming, archery, or other projects.  There are also resources for those children with special needs.  This is really a broad area and can include disabilities, allergies, housing instability, or other physical or emotional requirements.

As you narrow down the choices, you may want to contact the camp director.  Some talking points might be:

  • Ratio of counselors to campers
    • How many counselors return each year?
    • What is the counselor training program?
  • What is the camp’s mission statement or guiding principles?
  • What are the medical arrangements?
  • Ask for a copy of the camp rules and disciplinary practices.

If possible, visit the camp with the child.  In the long run, trust your gut instincts.

Take the time to speak with your kid to air any concerns the child may have.  Review how those worries can be overcome.  Review some of your child’s accomplishments over the past year and how those skills will be beneficial when they are away at camp.  Try to avoid discussing how much you will miss them since this can contribute to their anxiety.


Finally you are down to the nitty gritty of getting ready.

  • Check up. Book an appointment with your pediatrician.  You may need to provide copies of immunizations and a report of this recent visit.  Understand all of the forms that may be required and create a checklist.  Understand whether the camp wants you to submit these forms in advance or bring them on the date.  Keep everything in a folder and keep a second folder with copies of all that documentation just in case.
  • Review the packing list and start assembling as soon as possible so that you will have enough time to order and have items delivered, if necessary. Double check everything and be sure the items are all labeled with your child’s last name and first initial.  Use a permanent marker or order labels online.
  • Keep to the list and rules. Bending them even a little tells your child it is somehow special and has permission to disobey.
    • Remember sunscreen, bug spray, and a disposable camera.
    • Prepare a packet of any medical supplies your child might need.
    • Leave valuables at home. Even if the child begs, don’t take the chance of something that has monetary or intrinsic value to disappear.
  • Check with the camp about writing letters and sending care packages from home.
  • Ask your kid how they are feeling. Remind them to stay hydrated, follow instructions, and not to share hats, helmets, combs, etc. (lice!)

At the drop off, don’t linger too long.  Be excited for your child but try to avoid them seeing you anxious.  Encourage them to make new friends.  For girls packing nail polish and supplies will give them something to bond over.  You could also include a picture of a favorite vacation spot; just something for a conversation starter.

Homesickness is inevitable.  In the weeks and days prior to leaving, it is good to discuss this emotion and help them understand it is normal and you are confident in their ability to handle it and work through.  However, only you know your kid best.  Trust your gut and if things are really serious, bring them home.

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