Every summer, thousands of parents pack up their kids and send them off to a week (or more) of a camp of some sort. I did not attend camp as a kid and was always intrigued by the idea of it. I loved to read books about summer camps and Heavyweights is still one of my favorite movies.
When I was in college, I spent part of two summers as a counselor at a large summer sports camp in Texas. I absolutely loved the adventure of spending time with youth, teaching them a sport (I taught cheer, dance, gymnastics, and snorkeling), and engaging in various types of competition. After having kids, I longed to give them a camp experience and my husband and I decided that church camp was the right way for us to offer that to them. For the past four summers, I have spent a week counseling at a camp here in Oklahoma. Looking back on our first year at camp, there are so many things I wish I knew. So…I thought I’d share a few tips to help if you are sending your kid(s) off to camp this summer.
1. Find the right camp experience for your children.
There are so many camp options that it can be overwhelming trying to decide which place is right for your kids. There are locations that focus on the arts, athletics, academics, or religion. Many camps offer a blended experience and you will want to do your research to find the best fit for your family. There are directories online that are extremely helpful (a nice one can be found here), but you can also get information from local churches, sports teams, and, obviously, your friends.
2. If at all possible, take them to the location yourself.
Many campers arrive in large groups with a youth minister or parent of one of their friends. This may be convenient, but if you have a first-time camper, you may want to try to take them to camp yourself. Meet the people they will be with all week, walk the grounds with them, help them make their beds, and communicate any pertinent information to the adults in charge. You will feel more comfortable and so will your child, which will be a positive start to the session or week.
3. Give appropriate medical information and send medical items.
This sounds like common sense, but it isn’t. Camp staff needs to know from a parent if a child has any allergies/conditions or if medication is taken on a daily basis. Most camps require some sort of medical form to be signed, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who sign the forms, but don’t actually communicate the appropriate information.
4. Pack the right stuff.
There are many camp packing lists online (check Pinterest), but oftentimes, each location will have it’s own list for you to look over when packing. Here are a few things I think are necessary to have at camp:
- items for theme nights (many camps do this and the kids love to dress up/accessorize)
- Bible/sports equipment/etc–whatever is specific to your chosen camp
- a watch–it’s hard to be on time to different classes/activities if you don’t know what time it is
- a water bottle
- a pillow–this was the item most forgotten in my cabin this year!
- a flat sheet–even if your child is using a sleeping bag, they need a flat sheet for their mattress. Do you know how many kids have slept on those?!
- a few items for cabin quiet time (NOT electronics)–playing cards, books, journals and pens, etc
5. Send mail.
If your camper is going to be somewhere for a week or more, send them some mail. I know a week really isn’t very long, but the kids are always touched when they receive a letter or card from parents, grandparents, or siblings. They get really excited if their mail includes some candy or snacks for the cabin to share. Some camps even offer care packages for you to order. Make sure to check information for your specific location to see what is/isn’t acceptable to send. Even though I go to camp with my kids, they love getting mail. My mother-in-law always sends some gum with her notes, which makes the kids pretty happy.
6. Try to make them stay for the entire camp session.
This is a tough one. I can’t imagine getting a phone call from my child begging to come home from camp. It is normal for kids to have some homesickness, especially at night, but the benefits of camp usually outweigh the sadness a camper may feel when they are away from home. At camp, my kids have strengthened their faith, learned lots of new games, and made close friends with people from all over the state. They love camp and are always really sad to leave. Camps offer so many unique experiences for kids and allow them a feeling of pride when they finish the week, something they have probably been looking forward to all year. However, if at any time you feel your child is more than just homesick, you need to do what makes you feel comfortable. If that means leaving early, then so be it. Your child’s health and well-being are much more important than the money you spent or others’ opinions.
Attending a summer camp can be a fun and rewarding experience for your precious kids. Hopefully, these tips will help you if you are planning on sending your littles in the future!