Going away to camp can be a fantastic opportunity for your kids to grow independently and develop their strengths and interests. As a parent, it might be difficult to send your child to sleepaway camp for the first time. However, sleepaway camp offers much more than just a summer activity. It enables kids to begin a new phase of their increasingly independent lives.
- Is Your Child Ready?
- Deciding on a Camp
- Talking to Your Kids
- Preparing Your Child
- Helping Your Child Pack
Is Your Child Ready?
Even if your child insists on sleepaway camp this summer, you must assess his or her preparedness and make a decision with your child.
For kids who have never been away for more than one night, sending them to a month-long camp isn't the best choice. Try a one-week program for the first time. Kids can always attend a longer session the following summer if they like the camp.
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Deciding on a Camp
With so many camps to choose from, deciding on one can be a daunting task. When choosing a camp, talk with your kids first about what they want in a program. If your child has been attending a day-camp for previous years and that same camp offers a residential program, this might be a good place to start. Both you and your child are comfortable with that environment. You also might have heard of a camp from a reliable sources, but you will want to do some research on your own.
The American Camp Association has a directory of accredited camps. You can research a camp you have identified, or view the listings of camps. These are all camps that have met the over 300 standards created by experts including the American Red Cross and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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Talking to Your Kids
First, no mater how old your children are, talk with them about the potential disasters that can happen and why it's necessary to prepare. Be clear about where supplies are, how they use a fire extinguisher, what should happen in case of an emergency. This should include where you will meet and who they should call for news and to tell where they are (usually someone outside the state to avoid busy telephone lines).
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Preparing Your Child
Before sending your child off to sleepaway camp, there are some things you will need to do.
- The spring of the year before your child attends camp, start asking around about recommended camps, and talk with your child about the upcoming opportunity.
- Camps fill up quickly, so interview the camp staff.
- Assess your child's readiness, and consider sending him or her to a short sleepaway session this summer in preparation for next summer.
- In the fall, make your decision, and join the camp's mailing list.
- During the winter, apply to the camp with your child, schedule a camp physical, go to the camp fairs, read the packing list and plan to obtain the necessary items in time.
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Helping Your Child Pack
Packing the right supplies for an extended trip is vital. The camp will likely send you a packing list, but if they do not, be sure to either call or check the camp's Web site. Every camp is different, but here are a few things that should be in every camper's bag.
- Clothing. Pack a swimsuit if there are outdoor showers, a lake or a pool, and bring warm clothes just in case. Temperatures can dip near the ocean or at night. Pack enough socks and underwear, as well as pajamas.
- Toiletries. Don't forget to pack your child's toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, shampoo, a hairbrush and other toiletries they will need, including feminine sanitary products if needed.
- Sunscreen. Remind your child to apply sunscreen every few hours. Have your child read about or share information with him or her about sun safety for summer.
- Sports Equipment. If your child is going to a specialized sports camp, don't forget to pack the appropriate gear. And always remember to pack a sturdy pair of sneakers for sports. If your child will be hiking, remember to pack hiking boots.
- Medicine. If your child takes medicine regularly, make sure the camp knows this, and give the medicine to the camp so a counselor can give the right amount to your camper every day. You may also want to arrange with the camp for your child to administer the medicine if you, your camper and the camp are comfortable with this arrangement.
- Bug Spray. Pack a good spray, and ask your child to apply it daily, and to be especially careful to apply it at night, when mosquitoes and other bugs come out.
- Water Bottle. Pack an empty water bottle, and tell your child to fill it up often to make sure he or she stays hydrated during the day.
- Bedding. Check if your child will need to bring sheets, a pillow, blankets or a sleeping bag.
- Disposable Camera. Give your child a disposable camera so he or she can capture some of the fun to share with you when he or she gets home.
- Money. Send your camper with a small amount of money to spend on snacks, a pay phone, the laundry or at the camp shop if there is one.
- Pen, Paper, Stamped and Addressed Envelopes. Provide your child with stationary to write to you and, if your child is staying at camp a while, get letters sent to them.
Send your child a letter that to be received at camp. If your child is attending a short program, send the letter ahead of time so it will get there while your child is still at camp.
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Your child will probably feel homesick at some point during camp. You can prepare your child for some of these feelings. Before your child leaves for camp, make a plan about what your camper will do if he or she is uncomfortable. You can pack an item from home to let your child know that you are thinking him or her.
Plan to do something special when your child arrives home. Make your child a card, have a family dinner in which your child chooses the menu, or just sit down with him or her and talk about the experience. Sleepaway camp is an excellent opportunity for your child to gain confidence and independence while making new friends and developing lifelong skills.
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By Julia Ransohoff, high school student writer
Camp in Your Child's Future—The Year Ahead, American Camp Association.
Fun and Safety—ACA Camps Set the Standard, American Camp Association.
Homesickness--Expert Advice for Parents, American Camp Association.
Preparing Your Teen/Preteen for Being Away from Home, Teen Health 411: Healthline.