Sending your child to sleepaway camp for the first time is exciting and a little bit scary (for both parents and kids!) but once you and your camper have decided that she is ready for camp and chosen the perfect fit, it’s time to get her ready and excited for the best experience of her life!
Whether your child is excited or nervous for camp (or both), all kids need some pre-camp prep, especially for his first experience. If there’s time, we highly recommend visiting the camp and spending time there. Seeing the camp during the summer so your child can see what it’s like in full swing – including feeling the camp’s vibes and seeing other children having fun – is always recommended. Family camp is sometimes a good option so kids get the lay of the land with you nearby. It’s also a good idea to check if your camp has a pen-pal program so your child feels like he knows someone and has someone to look for upon arrival.
Talk to your camper about anything she may be nervous about and reassure her that a little homesickness is perfectly normal. Explain that you will miss her too but you’re so excited for the experience she is going to have. Try not to show her that you are overly anxious or upset as these emotions will rub off on her. Remind your child of how you will be in touch via mail, email, and phone calls and when they will occur as well as how long it will be until you will see him again in person. If the homesickness starts before your camper leaves, reassure her that camp will be really fun and she will make new friends really quickly. Resist the urge to give her an escape plan – don’t send your child to camp thinking that if she is a little homesick you will be there right away to pick her up. Be sure to have your child exchange summer addresses with her friends from home so they can keep in touch during the summer and we suggest sending a letter or email in advance so your camper can hear from you at the first mail call.
Take some time to sit down with your child and discuss what to do if he doesn’t feel well and who to talk to if he has a problem at camp. Reassure him that anything he would come to you with at home, he can go to his counselor, unit head, or camp director with at camp. This includes talking about bullying or if something is making him upset or uncomfortable.
Make sure your child knows the camp’s rules: if the dining hall is Kosher, whether or not electronics can be used and when, the policy on junk food, etc.
Packing is a huge part of the camp experience. It signals that camp is close and that your child will not have all of the comforts of home at her fingertips. Be sure to pack with your camper so you can show her what is making the trip to camp, explain what can’t go and why, and get input on certain items (such as a pair of shorts she hates or her favorite pajamas). Show your child things like how her toiletries will live in a caddy and not on the sink, where laundry will go, and how to address a letter.
Camps usually provide packing lists and we suggest you follow it pretty closely. Many camps have activities or “special nights” that require specific clothing or equipment which will be listed on their packing list. They will note things like whether or not your camper will need to bring extra money for the canteen or outside trips as well as what items are prohibited - if you send these things anyway, they will most likely be confiscated. We also suggest you don’t send anything valuable and be sure to write your child’s name in and on EVERYTHING. And of course, don’t forget to pack some clothes in the camp’s colors for color war/Maccabiah/Olympics!
Your camper may also feel more comfortable if he is able to personalize his area of the bunk so send along fun decorations and some reusable adhesive. And don’t forget to pack comforting reminders of home including favorite stuffed animals and pictures of family!