Eight ways parents can get kids ready for overnight camp
From dry runs to packing tips, veterans of sleepaway-camp drama offer tips for keeping kids happy away from home.
Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.
Summer camp might sound like nothing but fun, but for kids preparing to leave home for the first time, meeting new people, trying unfamiliar activities, and other unknowns can cause distress. Here’s how seasoned camp parents prep their little ones for the big adventure.
1. Visit before drop-off day
“A walk-through with the camp director did it for my son,” says Alice M. Burns of Snowville, New Hampshire, whose child started at Camp Tohkomeupog, in Madison, New Hampshire, at age 8. “Talk of all the traditions and activities really got him excited.” Jillian Krause, who lives in Denver, sent her daughter and son to camp in Rhode Island, also beginning at 8. They took advantage of preparatory sleepover and day visits to Camp Hoffman in South Kingstown and the Episcopal Conference Center camp in Pascoag. “Knowing where the big stuff is — like the dining hall or arts and crafts building — can be so helpful,” says Krause.
2. Reach out to other campers
Before Melissa McNeeley’s son headed off to Camp Walt Whitman in Piermont, New Hampshire, for the first time, at age 8, she set up a FaceTime call with another camper. “If your kids don’t know anyone, it really helps” says McNeeley, who lives in Brooklyn.
3. Focus on fun
Jordan Guagliumi of Merrimack, New Hampshire, began sending his son to French Woods camp in Hancock, New York, at age 8. Before he left, says Guagliumi, “we simply focused on the positives — new opportunities, friends, experiences.” It worked; he stayed for three extra weeks. Says Krause: “Your positive attitude about how much fun they are going to have — and how much fun you had as a kid at camp — all helps.”
Keep speculative chats short and sweet, says Jessica Wolcott of Sun Valley, Idaho, who has been sending her daughters, now 13 and 14, to Wohelo Camps in Raymond, Maine, for five years. Muse about where other kids will be from or how many times they’ll eat pancakes, she says. “Just don’t go too deep.”
4. Pack some photos
Growing up, Karen Cadwalader of Newport, Rhode Island, was both a camper and a counselor at YMCA Camp Huckins in Freedom, New Hampshire. Now she sends her 9- and 11-year-old daughters there. She suggests outfitting kids with photo books (“like the ones you gave to Grandma before social media”) with pictures of relatives, pets, friends, and big accomplishments. They’ll feel empowered to take on new challenges, she says, “but still have their family to support and love them.” Wolcott tapes photos inside her girls’ trunks; McNeeley’s son packed a photo of their dog to keep by his bed. “That helped,” she says.
5. Review schedules
For some kids, knowing how their days will play out can bring comfort. Krause suggests giving your child a waterproof watch to wear. “It’s nice for them to know what time it is as activities transition and they learn the schedule,” she says.
6. Make connections
“I prewrite letters and label them with the date so my kids can open one each day,” says Krause. Wolcott suggests packing goodies to share with cabinmates, such as extra sunglasses, friendship bracelets, or a game. “It smooths out the getting-to-know-you process,” she says.
7. Capture special moments
Most camps require kids to turn in cellphones, but bagging some selfies is still a sweet idea. “Disposable cameras are fun so kids can show you some of the cool stuff they did,” says Krause. A journal or scrapbook might work, too.
8. Never let them see you sweat
Some parents admit to being more nervous about drop-off than their kids. Don’t let them know that, says Wolcott. “Do your best to hold it together,” she advises. “Once you have driven away, prepare to pull over and sob.” A good reminder — for parents and kids alike — is that if any real issues come up, counselors know you’re just a phone call away.