With two years on staff, and over a decade as a camper, I would consider myself to be quite the summer camp expert. I have attended overnight camp, day camp, horse camp, golf camp, science camp and law camp (yes, that is a thing), just to name a few. While no two summer camps are the same, I hope you will find these tips helpful!
Snag The Best Bunk
Many camps have a window of time that parents can drop off and pick up guests. I can’t recommend enough how important getting there early is! At every camp I have attended as a camper, bunks are on a first come, first serve basis. That means if your camper really wants a top bunk, or a bottom bunk, or something in a corner you need to get there early. As a counsellor, I have seen parents who arrive at the end of the window get quite upset that their child won’t have a top bunk, and I have seen them try to convince another child to trade with them—after their parents have set up their bed, and left to go back home. Another thing I have seen is campers who sign up to come together. Often they are cousins or friends from school, and often they want to share a bunk bed or be side-by-side. The best way to make sure this happens (and to avoid disappointment!) is to arrive right when the gates of the camp open!
My first summer at camp my parents made the mistake of sending me with a suitcase. Well by the middle of the week my bag was a mess, everything smelled like sunscreen and the lake, and I couldn’t find anything. Walmart sells clear plastic drawer sets for about $20. I prefer the taller one with more drawers. Perfect to keep socks, underwear, clothes, notebooks, and whatever else you have brought along the way. Don’t forget to stop by the dollar store to get a basic caddy for the shower. While some camps have showers in the cabin, most will have campers walking from the cabin to a shower facility.
What To Pack
Start off by reading the list that the camp sends you, and then follow it. Three things that I can’t recommend enough are multiple bathing suits (for girls, one-piece suits are better so they can enjoy all of the activities without worries of a wardrobe malfunction), a few warm sweaters and sweatpants (because evenings can get chilly!), and a raincoat (because summers just seem to be more wet and damp than we imagine).
Don’t Forget The Camp Store
Many camps have a camp store where kids can buy candy, branded hats, and other goodies. My old camp even had an ice cream shop! Make sure to figure out how you can pay into the account. Many cabins will make a habit of stopping by during downtime, and as a counsellor, it was never fun to see the kid whose parents didn’t add any money. At most camp stores, $10 can go a long way.
Send Mail *
*But not through the regular mail system if your kid is only staying for a week.
You can often leave letters or postcards with your child’s counsellor or the front office. Letters don’t need to be very long. Don’t mention any bad news, anything that makes home seem like more fun, or anything that could make your child feel bad for being away. Something like this:
I hope you are having an amazing time at camp! I can’t wait to hear all about the fun you are having when you get back. Are you enjoying kayaking or canoeing more? I always preferred kayaking. What are you making in Arts & Crafts? Today was pretty quiet at home. I went in the pool, did some gardening, and stopped by the grocery store. Grandpa says hi!
While on the topic of bad news… one summer I experienced every counsellor’s worst nightmare! I had three campers who were all friends from outside of camp – they went to school together. On the way to dinner one evening, one of their older sisters wanted to speak with them. Unfortunately, one of their classmates had passed away. The sister shared this news, consoled the child, and then went back to her cabin. This left me, a 17-year-old kid, in charge of 6 other 10-year-olds, to console three little girls about their friend’s passing. It was really hard. It really wasn’t fair that such a young child had died. There was no way to really make it better.
But we did our best, we let the girls speak about their friend, about how they felt, and about how sometimes bad things happen to really good people. I really wish that their parents had not shared that news, and had waited until they got home. I’m not sure how they would have wanted that first death experience handled, but I am sure that they probably would have done a better job for their children than their counsellor of three days. This news could have – and should have – waited until the week was up.
Tell Your Child’s Counsellor Everything
Does little Avery wet the bed? Is Ryan allergic to peanuts? Does Harris struggle with ADHD? Does Taylor sleepwalk? Please tell your child’s counsellor so that they know what to look out for, and so that they can help your camper have the best possible experience. While on that note, please don’t send your kid to camp with any nuts, or nut snacks. Odds are they will end up in the garbage on night #1.
Leave The Cell Phone At Home
Everybody has them, and at camp, nobody needs them. Not only are they likely to get lost or stolen, but the whole point of camp is to enjoy nature, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy just being. Leave the screens at home, and help your camper live in the moment.
While I could probably write an essay on this topic, I hope that you have found this to be helpful as you prepare your camper for their biggest adventure yet! Camp is amazing. It can be scary at first, but it is so wonderful to be a part of. It is okay for your camper to be homesick, and it is okay for you to miss them terribly, however, camp is an experience that is good for kids. It gets them out of their comfort zone and helps them try something new. Make new friends, face fears, and just enjoy being a kid.
Camp sticks with people in funny ways. While my fiancé and I haven’t exactly settled on a timeline for having children of our own, we have had many a spirited discussion over which camp they will attend: the camp I went to, or the camp he went to.