If summer camp is in your child’s immediate future, the time to start planning is right now. Sending your child to camp for a month, or longer, is essentially like preparing for a long trip. With some pre-planning, you can be prepared, avoid last minute crises, and ensure that your child starts his experience off on a positive note.
If your child walks or is driven to school, the camp bus may be her first experience taking a bus independently. Some camps have an orientation which includes a short ride on the camp van or bus. If your camp doesn’t do this, you can help prepare her for the process. Explain bus safety rules (seatbelts always on; no hands or heads out of windows; stay seated while bus is moving; etc.). Your local library should have books and videos on riding a (school) bus that may be helpful.
Your child will need a backpack or tote bag for transporting things to and from camp. The camp should provide a clothing list. Some items will be left at camp until the end of the session, and used as needed (sweatshirt, raincoat, sunscreen) and other items will be brought to and from camp each day (bathing suits, towels). Be sure all clothing items are clearly labeled with your childs name. You can use an indelible marker or you can purchase a self-stamping ink stamp with your child’s name.
For either day camp or sleep-away camp, if you need to schedule a pre-camp check-up at the pediatrician, be sure to call a month or so in advance, as many doctors’ offices are quite busy at this time of year. Your doctor will also need to fill out the camp’s required medical forms.
If your child is attending sleep-away camp, the camp will most likely provide a suggested list of clothing, linens, etc. You should also inquire how frequently the camp provides laundry service, as this will impact how much to pack. Also, be forewarned. Sometimes the list you receive will not be totally appropriate for your child, so take your child’s needs and personality into account before you begin packing. For example, if you know your child wears the same pair of pajamas for a solid week, ignore the recommended guideline to pack 4-5 pairs. The list from my daughter’s camp recommended sending 16 towels. Knowing my child, 2 pool towels and 4 bath towels will be sufficient. However, if your child prefers a fresh towel each time he showers, you might need to send many more towels with him. Additionally, the list that most camps distribute is the same, regardless of whether your child will be staying for 4 weeks, 6 weeks or the full summer.
As you are shopping for camp, recognize that most camp beds are smaller than a twin bed, so sheets you own will probably be too big. Either teach your child how to tuck the excess under the mattress, or consider purchasing cot-size sheets. You can also use a sleeping bag, either to sleep in, or to spread open on top of the sheet as a blanket. This eliminates the need to send separate blankets, and serves double-duty if your child’s camp does overnight hikes where a sleeping bag is needed.
Try to assemble all clothes for packing at least a week or two in advance, so any cleaning or repairs that may be necessary can be made. If you need to order camp t-shirts and/or sweatshirts, do this long enough in advance that they can be labeled and packed. Some camp vendors offer delivery straight to your child’s bunk. Remember, you will also need extra time to label all clothing with your child’s name. This can be a fairly time-consuming, monotonous task, so consider working on a pile of clothes and labels when you’re watching tv or chatting on the phone. You will also need to pack a large laundry bag, clearly labeled with your camper’s name, for dirty clothes at camp.
Your child will also need a complete set of toiletry items. If her camp is one where the children walk from the bunk to a separate facility for showering, consider purchasing a plastic tote in which she can easily carry all her items. If you purchase the tote now, you can add items each time you go shopping. Then have her do a dry run through her morning routine to make sure nothing was overlooked (i.e., a cup for teeth-brushing). Pack anything that could potentially spill in a separate zipper-style plastic bag. You may want to instruct your child to throw away bottles of shampoo, body wash, or other sticky items at the end of the summer, rather than risk having them spill all over the trunk as they are transported home (no doubt without the plastic bags they arrived in).
The best way to ensure your child sends letters while he is away, is to make the process easy for him. Pre-address and stamp envelopes to yourself, grandparents, and anyone else with whom you want your child to correspond. Be sure to send several pens or pencils. If you are sending some additional stationery and stamps, be sure to send booklets of self-adhesive stamps. It is likely to be humid, and gummed stamps can easily stick to themselves. (I remember being at sleep-away camp when I was 9 years old, long before self-adhesive stamps were invented, and having to borrow stamps from a bunk-mate because mine were stuck to each other.) If your child plans to write to friends, make sure she has a list of their summer addresses, or pre-address envelopes to friends as well. Put all of the stationery in a large zipper-top plastic bag.
You might want to assemble a small photo album with pictures of family, pets and friends to remind your child of home and help combat homesickness.
If you are sending a flashlight, be sure to pack extra batteries. If you are sending a camera, don’t forget extra film if the camera is not the digital variety. Or better still, send a 3-pack of disposable/waterproof cameras along. Remember to send a water bottle. If your child has a favorite toy or stuffed animal he sleeps with, be sure to label it, and send it along. If you need to truck or ship the trunk/duffle bag to camp, make those arrangements several weeks in advance.
In general, avoid sending anything of value to camp. Check with your camp director; some camps prohibit items like Game Boys®, iPods®, cell-phones, etc., as well as items like water guns.
If your child has any medical conditions that need special attention (i.e., bee sting allergy, food allergy, asthma) be sure that, in addition to the required medical form, you send a letter to your child’s counselor which includes an “Action Plan”. Make sure the camp nurse has extra medication on hand, should it become necessary.
Wishing your and your child a summer full of magical experiences!