he week is blocked off on your summer calendar. Your child will not be sleeping at home — and maybe this is the first time aside from a night with grandparents. Or, perhaps overnight camp is a tradition and you’re getting organized so you can pass off more of the prep to your child.
Kids develop different skills at sleepaway camps than traditional day camps, where they can return home to their comfort zones at the end of the day. Specifically, overnight camps help build coping skills and independence.
“When away from mom or dad for a full week, they figure out how to handle the highs and lows,” says Konner Lashley, camp program director at Hiram House Camp, which is Ohio’s oldest camp, founded in 1896.
How do you know a child is ready for a first overnight experience? It’s not about age. “Have they been away from family before?” Lashley relates. “Do they have coping mechanisms to help lead them on a path of success for that week?”
Namely, if an iPad or other electronic device is how your child unwinds, what will he or she do in a tech-free environment when homesickness sets in? “Are they comfortable leaning on another adult and asking for help?” Lashley says, adding that accepting guidance from counselors and staff will help a child adjust to new situations.
Kids aren’t the only ones who go into an overnight camp experience with jitters. “Sometimes, parents are more nervous than the kids,” says Madeline Thomas, camp administrator at Camp Christopher in Akron. Families can create uncertainty without realizing it.
So, how do you set your child up to have a fun-filled week (or two) away — an experience they’ll always remember? Counselors share a few ways to prepare your child for a sleepaway this summer.
Review the schedule
Discuss what will happen at camp each day. “Most camps have an example schedule online so you can go through it with your camper,” Lashley says, adding that this can settle nerves, too.”
Participate in packing
Clothes are folded, toiletries are packaged. Your intentions are good. It’s time to pack your child for sleepaway camp. But wait. “We see it a lot — kids come to camp and they have no idea what is in their suitcases, and a counselor asks, ‘Do you have this or that?’ and they don’t think it’s in the bag,” Lashley says.
So, a counselor rounds up the “missing” supplies, and the items are later found at the bottom of the bag.
Review the list of what to bring to camp with your child. Ask him or her to help gather the required clothing and necessities. “When they know what they are going to need for camp, it helps them prepare for each day,” Lashley says.
Include a comfort item — a blanket, pictures, stuffed animal, something to remind your child of home. “This can help soothe them if they are having a tough night,” Lasher says.
Another must-pack: an extra pair of shoes.
Camp mail is a part of the sleepaway experience, but be sure your notes are not dripping with, “We miss you so much!” Lashley says, “Instead, focus on, ‘We hope you are having a good time.’”
At Camp Christopher, parents can leave a week’s worth of letters at camp that are distributed each day if they wish. “That way, they can give their kid a little bit of extra love even though their child really can’t communicate with them while they are gone,” Thomas says.
Letter-writing is also a way campers can journal about their times at camp or express their feelings if they are going through a rough patch, Lashley adds. So tuck some stationery or note cards into your kid’s suitcase, and remember to write down addresses.
Avoid “sick” talk
Reframe the discussion if your child is worried about becoming homesick. “We discuss it as ‘missing home’ and don’t use the word homesick because then kids feel like they go to the nurse, they’re sick and can go home,” Thomas says.
Missing home is typical, and many campers will experience a night or several where they think about the comforts of their familiar surroundings. Thomas says, “Make sure your kid knows they are only here for a week, they’re here to have fun and make friends, and if they feel like they are missing home they can talk about it with their counselors who have also been through it, so they know what it feels like.”