Tips on Preparing Your Child for the First Summer at Sleepaway Camp

It’s exciting and a little scary; your child is taking that big step, the first summer at sleepaway camp. Whether your youngster is following friends or siblings to camp or striking out bravely on his own, there are a few things you can do to make the transition easier for your child – and for you.Have a Trial-Run SleepoverIf your youngster had limited experience with staying away from home overnight, have him spend the night with a relative or friend he hasn’t stayed with before, and don’t go and get him in the middle of the night! A new sleepover experience will be a little like the first night at camp and will help you address any issues that may arise. If your family is from the city, an overnight camping trip can get him used to unfamiliar things in the outdoor environment like wildlife, bugs and nighttime sounds in the woods.Go to Open HouseIf possible, attend an open house at your child’s camp while the camp is in session. Your child will get a better idea of what to expect and can become somewhat familiar with the facilities, what the atmosphere is like and what would be happening on a typical day.Go ShoppingYour child’s camp will likely send along a list of necessities and optional items, so bring your youngster along on a cool camp shopping spree. Although most camps encourage older t-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts that can withstand lots of outdoor adventures, it’s fun to get one or two new items or splurge on one “in” bit of clothing or accessory.Explain About Sharing SpaceMany kids these days have never had to share a bedroom, so living in close quarters with eight other campers can be a bit overwhelming. In fact, one of the challenges of summer camp counselor jobs is teaching kids to cohabit in a relatively small space. Provide some pointers on keeping organized and not infringing on cabin-mates’ space. Try throwing a slumber party for your child before camp starts or letting him attend more overnight get-togethers than usual to provide more exposure to group living.Go Over the BasicsCamp is great for teaching kids how to take care of themselves. Go over the importance of separating out clothes that need to be laundered, hanging up wet clothes, bathing suits and towels and keeping toiletries segregated in a bucket for carrying to the bathroom.Let Your Child Know It’s OK to Be HomesickLet your first-time camper know that’s it’s perfectly normal to be a little homesick, but don’t tell them you’ll come and get them if this happens. The vast majority of youngsters overcome an initial bout of homesickness fairly quickly, and encouraging them to call and come home is setting them up for failure. Instead, tell them to talk to their summer camp counselors, who are well-versed in dealing with this common first-time camper complaint. Staying busy and active and seeking out new friends will quickly push thoughts of home into the background.Discuss CommunicationsDepending on the camp your youngster is attending, phone calls may be prohibited or only allowed at certain times of day. Letter writing is a great way to stay in touch, so send your camper off with a supply of stationery and stamped, self-addressed envelopes. You can even write a letter in advance and slip it into your child’s suitcase or mail it in time to get there as camp starts, just as a little transitional item to remind him that though you’ll miss him, you’re excited for all the fun and new experiences he’ll have at sleepaway summer camp.