It’s the key to dispelling the pre-camp butterflies: preparation.
Catherine Ross, former camp director and communications officer with the Canadian Camping Association, understands exactly how to help anxious parents and first-time campers.
“On countless arrival days, I greeted many cautious, apprehensive, wide-eyed new campers,” writes Ross in the Our Kids Preparing for Camp e-book. “Two or four weeks later, I waved goodbye to the same children–now happy, relaxed and definitely more confident.”
With Our Kids’ and Ross’s tips on preparing for camp, one of the most life-changing events of your child’s life won’t cause much anxiety anymore.
Advice for new campers
Familiarity can calm fears and worries about anything new. If visiting the camp in advance is not possible, check out the camp’s website, social media sites, DVD and information packages. Chat about your concerns with your parents, and get answers to your questions, Ross says. “Make the pre-camp preparation part of the experience so you get excited and know what to expect,” she says. “The more you know, the less you’re going to be concerned of the unknown.”
Talking to friends who have been to camp can help make the new experience less scary.
To experience being away from home, sleep over at a friend’s or relative’s house.
Learn to be more independent by helping with chores, such as shopping with your parents, making the bed, organizing your belongings and packing what you need to bring to camp.
Advice for parents
One of the most important tips for parents of new campers? “I think it’s involving the child every step of the way so there are no surprises,” Ross says.
When packing, include well-worn clothes that can withstand dirt and pine gum. Avoid bringing money or jewellery. Don’t pack or send junk food as most camps ban them for good reasons.
To prevent mixing up or losing belongings, use labels, or label all clothes and equipment with permanent marker or bright nail polish. Write down a list of all your child’s stuff.
Pack an adequate supply of medication with clearly labeled dosage instructions. A fanny pack is handy for items that need to be accessed immediately.
Let camp health-care staff know if your child has recently discontinued medication or has been exposed to a communicable disease.
Avoid raising the issue about homesickness unless your child brings it up. If your child has concerns about being homesick, reassure him or her that it is normal, and he or she will have support from other campers and camp staff.
If your child is apprehensive about camp, inform the camp director so counsellors can pay extra attention to him or her.
Chat about camp in a casual and positive way without dwelling on the negative or creating unrealistic expectations.
Advice on packing for camp
What your child needs to bring to camp will vary on the camp type, length of stay and your child’s age. The needs for overnight camp are also more extensive than those for day camp, but here’s a helpful general guide to get you started and help prepare your child with what to bring to camp.
What to take to summer camp:
Comfortable clothing, including swimwear and sleepwear
Hat with a brim
Sturdy footwear (running shoes, sandals, at least one pair that’s waterproof)
Bedding and towels
Sunscreen and insect repellent
Optional items such as: musical instruments, camera, writing supplies (pen, paper, stamped envelopes), books, games, small backpack (maybe even a small surprise treat!)
What to leave at home:
Electronic games and personal listening devices
Expensive items that will devastate your child if they are broken or lost
Too much money; a modest amount is all that’s needed to buy the occasional treat or souvenir at the tuck shop
Remember to label your camper’s belongings. If you don’t, you might be amazed at what your child brings home (or leaves behind).
(WATCH: Get important tips on how to pack for camp from mom of three and expert packer, Mara Shapiro)