From ghost stories to canoe trips to roasting marshmallows, sleepaway camp is a rite of passage for kids everywhere. To make the transition seamless and the separation anxiety-free, we spoke to those who have seen it all: the camp directors, long-time counselors, as well as veteran parents to get the real scoop, and learn the things no one ever tells you. Here are tips on what to bring, how to pack, and how to handle drop-off from the experts.
If You Love It, Leave It
This is not a luxury trip, so gear up accordingly. Forget the fancy threads and logo tees, think durable and comfortable – cool cottons, warm fleece, and weatherproof style. Jeans, sweatshirts, tees, knit shorts. Chances are your kids will spend more time in mud than ever before, so leave the Y-3s at home.
Luisa Kroll, Assistant Managing Editor of Wealth at Forbes and mom of two sporty girls, says to send old sneakers, old shirts, old towels. Gregg Lapidus, Director of Raquette Lake Camps in the Adirondacks, suggests you bring only dark socks for the same reason. In addition to a rain jacket, pack even wind pants and rain boots. The only exception? Ask your camp if there will be a social at the end of their stay. If so, pack one cute top or outfit.
Yes, you should make sure to have a tote or caddy for bathroom supplies to keep your kids organized so they can grab and go, but Christie Peterson from Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, Massachusetts says to forget the shower caddy. Instead, she suggests picking up a $1 beach bucket and poke a few holes in the bottom, then toss at the end of the summer.
If kids feeling a little anxious about heading into a pack of strangers, Christie Peterson suggests you ask the camp for the contacts of a few returning campers so you and/or they can email before summer. She recommends you get someone not from your area: “It’s much cooler to connect with someone from somewhere really far away,” she says. “Then it’s like meeting your pen pal when you arrive at camp!”
Be sure to keep your emotions under control when you’re dropping your kids off at camp. Most likely they are tryingtheir very best to be big girls or boys and keep their cool, but if Mom or Dad start to get a little weepy, chances arethey will, too. Just remind yourself that camp is not about playing tennis or shooting archery, it’s about making new and lifelong friendship. It’s about building confidence, sportsmanship and independence. So put on a big fat smile, give them a reassuring hug, and wait till you’re half a mile away to let the waterworks flow.
For a first-time camper, even a couple days apart can feel like forever. Imagine how hard a week, two weeks or a month will feel? Gregg Parker, Director of Camp Waziyatah in Waterford, Maine, encourages his campers’ parents to reach out to him if they have any concerns, that the better a camp director knows your child’s emotional state, the more he can understand their specific needs.
To prevent homesickness and encourage smooth transitions, he highly recommends that you never make early-pickup deals, as it sends the wrong message. Also, don’t bribe them to go to camp or overdo it with how much you miss them while they are there. Keep your correspondence upbeat. Let them know you’re proud of them and send fun news from home.
Luisa Kroll says to sign up for the electronic emails to send to your kids. Lots of camps now offer this and your child will love getting daily notes. That said, for the kids, it’s about the old-fashioned, snail mail way. So make sure they are loaded up on paper, pens, envelopes and stamps so they can send you and their grandparents, even their BFF a handwritten note. This will help them feel connected and in control anytime they start feeling homesick. Just make sure to pre-address all the envelopes for your kids to make things easier.
Also, consider practicing writing some before you leave home. And don’t forget to send care packages especially stuff that can be shared with the entire cabin. Makes your kid a winner with her friends. You might want to consider even consider dropping them off with one.
Setting kids up for a great experience is easier when you think about the bigger picture and what they'll gain from the experience. Before you know it, they'll be begging to stay another week.