Every summer, we love welcoming new campers into our ISTC family! It’s awesome for us as a camp to see first-time campers make it through the week and go home with increased confidence and new skills. Parents of new campers often call up and ask us for first-timer tips and how to prepare for summer camp. Dr. Chris Thurber gave a talk on the little things parents can do to get their child ready for sleepaway camp. (Find his video here) Here are Dr. Thurber’s top 10 tips:
1. Match your values.
The first tip for how to prepare for summer camp is to make sure you select a camp whose philosophy fits your value system. Figure out what values are important to you, from religion to views on competition, and search for camps that match those views. Each camp is different and focuses on different things, so you will likely be able to find the perfect camp with some searching! Camp websites often contain a mission statement or key principles, (here is ISTC’s) and you can always reach out to camps to learn more about their core values! Placing your child in a camp who shares your core values will make it a much more comfortable experience for everyone!
2. Involve your child.
Kids who feel part of the process in making both big and small camp-related decisions are more likely to enjoy camp once they get there. Excluding them from any decision-making can create a feeling of helplessness, and any steps you can take to make your child included will be beneficial. You can involve them in big ways like letting them pick their camp from a list of your pre-screened contenders or picking the week(s) they go to camp, or small ways ways like bringing them shopping with you for extra toiletries to bring to camp.
3. Practice spending time away from home.
Overnights at grandparents’, sleepovers with friends, and class trips that include a nighttime stayover all help to build confidence and teach a child how to cope with being away from home. Try to incorporate these experiences into your child’s life in the weeks and months leading up to camp, and they’ll have a much easier time with being away from home. If homesickness arises, it’s great to be able to relate these experiences to help children get through it.
4. Discuss homesickness.
Though this may seem scary at first, there are many beneficial effects of parents sitting down and talking about homesickness prior to camp. Don’t be nervous about using the word “homesick”! Support your child and let them know that it’s normal to feel homesick. Focus on the fact that if there’s something about home that they miss, that means that there’s something about home that they love, which is a great thing! Discuss coping strategies, like writing a letter home or thinking about all the fun things they will be doing the next day, that can help get the child through the experience when they feel homesick to get them through their stay at camp.
5. Pack smart.
The more prepared a child feels about what he/she is bringing to camp, the better! Most camps have a suggested packing list (link :to blog post on packing list) on their website, or if not, can give you a basic checklist if you ask. Each camp is different and will require different things, but knowing that your child has all the key items will eliminate any stress of not having the right gear at camp!
6. Label, label label.
You know your daughter’s favorite One Direction t-shirt? Yeah, so do her new cabinmates Jess, Emma, Sydney, Chelsea, and Julia…because they all have the same one! The only surefire way to claim ownership of something at camp when many children own similar items is to label your things! It can be as simple as using masking tape and magic marker to keep track of your child’s items.
7. Don’t make a pick-up deal.
When you’re planning for summer camp, many parents are tempted to offer to pick their kids up if they get homesick. But this is something that we always encourage first-time parents not to do! Instead, instill confidence and say things like “I know you’ll be able to make it through the week” to support your child through any homesickness. ISTC’s counselors and coaches have been trained in how to help campers through homesickness, so remind them that their counselors and coaches will be there for them!
8. Complete the health form honestly.
The more info you can give the camp about injuries, illnesses, allergies, medications, hospitalizations, etc. the better the camp can care for your child. This is not a form you want to skimp on! If you have other information that you want to include but isn’t addressed on the sheet, feel free to type up a paragraph or two and staple it to the health form or email it to the camp.
9. Get ready.
Surprises are great, but not necessarily for a first-time camper who’s not ready for camp! Taking small steps to get them ready for camp can make a big difference. You can do things like write the first day of camp on a wall calendar so your child knows when to expect it. You can discuss the rec theme for the week your child will be at camp and come up with possible costume or cheer ideas. You could take a look at the daily schedule so campers know roughly what to expect with their days at camp. Any way you can make them feel prepared and in-the-know will help the experience feel less foreign!
10. Plan correspondence.
As cell phones are not allowed at ISTC, make sure your child is familiar with the ways they can be in contact with you. Writing letters is always a wonderful way to stay in touch at camp and is one that we encourage! Sending your camper to camp with pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes and stationary makes it easy to write letters home. ISTC also offers a one-way email service where family can write campers emails every morning. If you have a clear plan of how you will communicate with your camper, it can help to reduce homesickness and make campers more comfortable.
One more big tip for first-time campers: The Summer Camp Handbook! is a FREE online book is a fantastic resource for how to prepare for summer camp. It was written by Dr. Thurber and Dr. Jon Malinowski, experts in the field of children’s experience at summer camp. There is tons of information to prepare you and your child for summer camp in this book, and it’s completely FREE!