My daughter was eight when she asked to go to sleepaway camp. We decided to test the waters by attending a family camp together.
We had a great time, and I immediately recalled how much I loved camp and realized what an amazing opportunity it would be for her, especially as a city kid. We swam, sailed, wind-sailed, paddle boarded, canoed, kayaked, did archery, climbed rock walls and ropes courses, and zip-lined. We cooked over an open flame, told "ghost" stories, and ate s'mores. The best part was having enough people for a seriously competitive game of Capture the Flag.
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The next summer she was ready for a weeklong camp. The following year? Two weeks. Now? We're up to three weeks. She loves every second.
We sent her younger brother when he turned 11. It was not the same positive experience. Some reasons were out of our control, but there were also mistakes I realized I made.
In retrospect, I would have done a few things differently to set him up for success, which you might want to consider too:
1. Start early
I think it would have gone better if we sent my son when he was younger. Mid-puberty is perhaps not the best time to toss a child into an all-new situation.
2. Bring a friend
Having a friend for my son in his cabin may have made all the difference. My daughter didn't need this, but they are very different kids.
This boys-only camp is designed to develop a boy's character so that they will be stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually:
Camp Timberlake Boys Sleepaway Camp in Western NC— View deal on CertifiKID
Boys, Grades 1 - 11
3. Talk to the counselors about your child's comfort level
Talk to the counselors about things that make your child unhappy or uncomfortable such as water, bees, or showering. Directly ask them to assist your child in making them more comfortable. Of course, I indicated some of these things on the enrollment forms, but I thought my son would also speak up for himself with his counselors.
4. Pack in a roller bag
I label everything, and then include an inventory list of everything they have so they bring it all back. However, I put everything in a duffel bag. But it turned out roller bags were the way to go — easier to transport and easier to find what you are looking for, without unpacking everything.
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5. Get kids used to quick showers
Really quick. At most camps there are lots of kids and limited showers, and they have to rotate in and out quickly. If they are shy, suggest showering in their bathing suit. Pack shower shoes! I did this, but I can't emphasize it enough.
6. Pack super-strength bug spray and anti-itch cream
They are going to get eaten alive. Make sure the product you choose repels against ticks also.
Camp Mason is where your camper will have fun, learn essential skills, develop relationships and explore positive values, all while being celebrated for being themselves:
YMCA Camp Mason Sleepaway Camp— View deal on CertifiKID
7. Consider a watch with an alarm
If your child is not allowed a smartphone, see if a digital watch with an alarm is allowed. That way your child can set an alarm to remind them to reapply sunscreen and bug spray. Some counselors are better than others about reminding children to do this.
8. Make it easy for them to write you
Want to stay in touch? Address and pre-stamp postcards for them to send you.
Camp Netimus, a camp for girls, is a place where enduring relationships are born and lifelong friendships develop:
Camp Netimus 2 or 3-Week Sleepaway Camp + FREE Transportation— View deal on CertifiKID
Girls, Ages 7-16
9. Don't overdo it on care packages
There is really no need for extras that will just get lost or cause issues in their cabins. A favorite snack might be a good idea, but send enough to share! One item we sent that went over well was a pillowcase with a Sharpie for everyone in the cabin to sign.
10. Help maintain camp friendships year-round
Many camps don't allow kids to have cellphones. If that's the case for your child, print out cards with your kid's contact information, whether that is your phone number or theirs, or even their social media or gaming handles. That way they can easily exchange their information with friends and continue their friendship throughout the year.
Your thrill seeker will enjoy a week's worth of overnight FUN, learning new outdoor leadership skills along the way:
Terrapin Adventures Sleepaway Camp— View deal on CertifiKID
Sending your child to sleepaway camp can be a fantastic opportunity for them to learn new skills, make lasting friendships, and gain independence. Planning and doing what you can to set them up for success will help your child have a memorable and enjoyable time at sleep-away camp this summer!
Debra Flanagan is the publisher of Macaroni KID Chicago Northside.