Preparing Your Child for Camp: Communication is Key!
Sign Up For Camp has interviewed dozens of Camp Directors for our blog over the past few years. One of the questions we typically ask is, “How should parents help kids prepare for camp?” The directors always have good advice based their experience. While each has a slightly different perspective, there are certain responses that come up time and time again. Since we’re in the beginning of summer camp season, we figured we’d now compile the advice and share with our readers.
Clearly, from camp director perspective, the most important thing you can do to prepare your child for camp is to talk to your child beforehand about the camp.
Let your child know what to expect at camp.
- Review the camp website or brochure with your child, showing them pictures and discussing the activities that they will be doing.
- Let them know what the camp day schedule is like. Many camps have an example of their daily schedule on their websites.
- Discuss what there will be in terms of snacks and meals. Are meals from home or provided at camp?
- Tell them how long will they stay. Will they be picked up after a half-day, even if other campers stay all day, or will they stay until late afternoon? Who will pick them up?
- Especially for younger children, many camp directors encourage visiting the camp before it begins. Some camps have specific orientation days, and most will allow visits. Meeting the camp staff beforehand can be very helpful for both the child and the parents! Try to attend the parent information session if there is one.
Encourage your child to be independent. Talk positively about how much fun they will have.
- A child is more likely to have fun if that’s their expectation. Mike Dobson of Urban Adventure Camps describes it like this:
Help kids get excited. Children feed off of what parents tell them. If a parent sends them off in awe about what a great experience they are going to have on that day or that week, the child arrives at camp with a great attitude that is immediately contagious throughout the group. The same goes the opposite way, if a parent is hesitant when they are leaving them or says things like, “I am going to miss you so much” or “I don’t know what I will do without you”, the children take them literally and it can really stress them and put a damper on their entire experience.
- Avoiding a long separation process during drop-off can help with this as well. You can even plan with your child beforehand for how the drop-off will go, so they know you won’t be staying past the sign-in procedure. You can even discuss exactly what you will say to send them on to their day.
Talk to your child each day about their experience at camp and give the camp director feedback if needed.
- Each night ask your child what they liked at camp, and what the plans are for the next day.
- If they are not having a good time, let the camp director know. In general, camp directors are some of the most kid-friendly people you can find, and they really want their campers to have fun. They typically want to know right away if there is an issue. Talking to them at the beginning of the week could hugely impact how much your child enjoys the rest of the experience.
Here are a couple other suggestions, particularly for the first day.
- Read the camp materials well ahead of time so you know what your child needs to bring with them to camp. Is any special equipment or clothing needed? How about a hat and/or sunscreen if outside all day?
- Make sure your child knows what’s in their backpack. Even very young children can help pack it up themselves so they can find what they need.
- Allow extra time the first day to make sure you are on time. If your child arrives late it can feel stressful to everyone, and your camper might miss important introductions and/or instructions.
For sleep-away camp, prepare for possible homesickness ahead of time.
- Most sleep-away camps are well-prepared to handle homesickness, since it’s not at all unexpected. Read what the camp has to say on their website about how they handle it and how you can help ahead of time. Talk to the camp director if you are particularly concerned.
- Take a look at interviews with directors from these camps to read more about homesickness and other issues specific to the sleep-away experience: Blue Tree Camp, Mercersburg Academy Summer Programs, The Experiment in International Living.
Summer camp is fantastic experience for the kids. A little communication with both your child and the camp can assure that everyone starts having fun right away.