Whether your family has a long tradition of summer camp or this is the first camper from your clan, once you’ve made the decision to send your child to camp, the real work begins. Directors in our membership have shared thoughts on first-time, overnight campers, and below are six tips for preparing those campers.
Some first-time campers have never slept away from home before. While camp is a great place for young people to adjust to being away from home and family, it’s not the best place to begin the experiment. Slumber parties, going to a relative’s house for the weekend, or spending the night at a friend’s house, are all good practice for dealing with that unfamiliar feeling prior to night one at camp.
Involve the camper in the process
From the first conversation about camp, it is a family affair. Including the camper in these preparations and decisions lays the foundation for a positive camp experience. Finding camps, taking tours, talking to directors, planning communication, packing and more – anything the family can do to involve the camper, they should. The more a camper feels ownership over this experience, the better. “Buying in” isn’t always the easiest for first-timers, so start early, keep them involved and informed, and empower them throughout the process.
Set and manage expectations
It’s easy to tell campers everything is going to be fine and they are going to love camp. Odds are, you’re telling the truth. However, experience teaches us that love for camp often comes over time. Campers may experience homesickness, anxiety or other unfamiliar feelings for the first time at camp. It’s important to talk about these feelings, communicate how normal they are, and brainstorm strategies to cope and continue having fun.
Communication is key
Camps have policies and procedures for communication during the summer. Some camps allow phone calls, some print e-mails for the campers and almost all still encourage “snail mail.” Learn the camp’s policies for camper communication and review them with your camper. Set realistic expectations for if, when and how they can share the fun their having at camp. Also, prewrite a few letters and send them ahead of time for your camper. Hearing their name at mail call is one of camp’s thrills.
Be honest with the camp
Prior to camp, parents should communicate any and all pertinent information that could influence their child’s summer. Whether it’s family dynamics at home, new developments at school or recent health changes, sharing this information openly and honestly with your camp sets up all parties for success. Things like bedwetting, new medications or having a camper whose sister is going away to college after the summer – all can be useful in helping camps prepare for your child.
Go do something (the parents)
You’ve done due diligence finding a camp. You’ve packed, practiced and rehearsed arrival day, and the time has come to drop off your camper. Once at camp, don’t stick around too long. When you depart, the magic of camp truly begins. Take this time and enjoy it. That could mean reading a book you’ve been putting off, getting together with other parents who are summer empty-nesters or doing any number of things that the joy of parenting forces you to delay. Remember that your child is off making new friends and facing new challenges in a safe environment. It’s time to step back and both have some fun.
Provided by the American Camp Association, New England, a 501 (c) 3 organization that serves families and camps as the hub for “all things summer camp” in New England. For help finding a camp or for additional camp information and resources in CT, MA, ME, NH, RI & VT, visit acanewengland.org or call (781) 541-6080.