Your camper-to-be isn’t the only one who needs the rundown on what to expect at overnight camp. We talked to the experts for tips for Mom and Dad, too.
When most people think about sending their kids to overnight camp, they consider how to make the adventure easier on their brood. They carefully shop and plan and pack to make sure their little ones feel right at home while they’re away from home. They talk about the camp experience for weeks leading up to departure. They arrive at camp early to let their children have their pick of bunks and set their beds up perfectly. But it’s not all about the kids. Parents have to prepare themselves for their child’s weeks of camp, too.
“In our experience, it’s often the parents who struggle when their children go to camp,” says Kevin McLaughlin, owner of Hockey Opportunity Camp (HOC), an overnight sports camp in Sundridge, Ont., with a focus on hockey and waterskiing. “Kids are resilient, and even the ones who are homesick usually come around pretty quickly,” adds Sophie McLaughlin, owner and finance director at HOC. “But moms and dads can be very anxious about leaving their kids overnight.”
So how can you get the whole family ready for the camp experience? We rounded up some tips and tricks for making the transition a lot easier for campers and parents alike.
And we don’t mean the graded kind. Camp registration for the season opens up in early fall to early winter, so sit down with your camper-to-be soon after school starts to research the options for next summer. What kind of camp are you looking for? If you’re looking for a specific sports or arts experience, look for camps that specialize in your child’s area of interest. For a little bit of everything, go for a multipurpose program. (Bear in mind some specialty camps, like Hockey Opportunity Camp, offer a general program as well.)
If you don’t know where to start, the Ontario Camps Association (ontariocampsassociation.ca) is a great jumping-off point. The site has a quiz you can take with your kiddo to point you in the right direction. Plus, OCA-accredited camps are held to high standards of care in order to be members, so you can be assured your camp of choice has been thoroughly reviewed.
“The best way to ease worries for both kids and parents is to go for a tour of the camp,” says Kevin. Many camps hold open-house weekends for this purpose, but you can also usually arrange for a private tour. If it’s not possible to make a visit to the grounds—there are a number of OCA-accredited camps within an hour or two of the GTA, but many are much further—make sure you review the camp maps and images with kids, to give them a sense of the geography before they arrive.
Before registering, check with other parents to see if one of your child’s friends might want to go, too. It makes the adjustment to camp easier there’s a familiar face in the crowd. Most camps will allow you to make bunking requests so friends can be in the same cabin or section. Siblings are good, too, but if there’s a significant age difference, their schedules are unlikely to overlap as seamlessly.
“We have a strict no electronics policy,” says Kevin, “which is pretty common at camps.” If you feel you need to be able to get in touch with your child, ask upfront, before registering, if cell phones are allowed. “There are usually other ways to check in on your kids,” says Sophie. Hockey Opportunity Camp uses an app called Bunk 1, for example, for one-way communication to campers and access to photo galleries, so parents can always keep tabs on what their kid is up to. Many camps also have social media accounts to give parents a glimpse into camp life.
If you want your child to feel your support and encouragement throughout the week, you can also give his or her counsellor notes or care packages to dole out every day or every other day (no need to rely on the postal system!).
Some camps even have parent communication coordinators, to help with things like this, as well as liaising with parents when their kids are on-site.
Most camps provide a packing list for campers. Make sure you scratch all the items off the list, and consider what your child might want or need to feel at home. If your kid always chooses water activities, consider an extra bathing suit and towel. If you know nights might be tough, send a favourite stuffy to cuddle with. If you’ve got the kid who’s always freezing, send a heavier coat or hoodie, and an extra blanket for their bunk. They’ll be ready for anything, and you’ll feel better knowing they are extra-prepared, too.
Consider a cottage or AirBnB rental nearby and kick back for the week. You won’t have daily check-ins with your child but perhaps you’ll feel better just being in closer proximity.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring/Summer 2018