It’s hard to believe, but summer camp season is just around the corner. When I was growing up, summer camp meant bunking with new friends in the woods, songs around the fire pit, and learning to kayak, macrame, and swim across a lake. It also meant coming home sunburned and happy, because parents didn’t believe in sunscreen until the 1990s. Whether you’re looking for a traditional camp experience or something that caters to a niche interest, if you can think of a hobby your child enjoys chances are there is probably a camp for it. Either way – seasoned camp parent or first-timer, summer camp planning begins now!
Gearing up for summer camp involves a lot more than stocking up on mosquito repellent and flashlight batteries, so we turned to the experts: PlanHero readers! In our recent poll, the general consensus with PlanHero Nation is summer camps are a great way to empower and enrich your child’s life. Whether it’s a day camp or overnight, the camp experience offers an opportunity for your children to safely flex their wings before they are ready to fly the nest. When asked what age is the earliest for sleep-away camp readiness, most of our readers send their kids packing once they’ve completed at least third grade. Every child (and mom!) is different, and Parents Magazine has a great article on determining your child’s readiness for overnight camps. Some other great tips from our readers to help your camper avoid homesickness:
- Keep busy with day-to-day activities; no contact with parents.
- Send letters and care packages (if permitted) to your camper. Include family photos, keep it lighthearted, and send early to ensure your camper receives while they are at camp.
- Leave them alone! No calls. No visits. It can be hard for first-time camping parents but it’s crucial for your child.
- Make sure they are really ready for camp.
- Have them attend with a buddy.
- Tuck a secret note or small treat in their suitcase.
- Encourage your children to take a special pillow, blanket, or stuffie with them – even if they think it’s embarrassing. They will be glad they have it (and likely not alone).
Additional tips from our readers:
- When the kids are younger, it is generally harder on the parents than the kids. Once everyone says goodbye, the kids are fine. Also, don’t cry until you get in the car.
- Sleep away camp is probably the most empowering experience our children have between the ages of 10-14. They LOVE it.
- Apply early. Every year it seems like some camps fill up earlier.
- Repetition of traditions and seeing the same summer camp friends each year is what they love most.
- Send a fitted sheet even if they’re packing a sleeping bag – cabin mattresses can be gross.
And finally, some of our readers’ favorite camps (also check out our special state-by-state guide to summer camps for an exhaustive list of literally thousands of summer camps):
- Four Winds * Westward Ho (WA)
- Gold Arrow (CA)
- Kennolyn Camps (CA)
- Pali Adventures (CA)
- Jamison Ranch Camp (CA)
- YMCA Camps (nationwide)
- Camp Canyonview (OR)
- River Way Ranch Camp (CA)
- Hume Camps (CA, MA, HI)
- Camp La Junta (TX)
- Walton’s Grizzly Lodge (CA)
- National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) (Nationwide, for older teens)
Still have questions about how to get ready? We love what the good people over at Sunshine Parenting are doing and they are a fantastic resource for all things summer camps, parenting, and happiness. Bonus – they have a podcast! Have a listen the next time you’re in your car to Episode 37 which is chock-full of tips for how to prepare for summer camp. Hosts Audrey Monke and Sarah Kuljis talk about getting your kids ready for summer camp, whether you’ve got the forms already filled out or are just considering it. These two have nearly six decades of camp experience between the two of them and are a treasure trove of helpful tips. Some of our favorites:
- Make sure you thoroughly fill out all camp forms. This can help avoid logistical headaches and enable camp staff to get a head start in getting to know your child. This is especially important if your child has a food allergy or any special needs with regard to behavior or prescription medications. Take your time and don’t hesitate to call the camp offices for any questions.
- Don’t make any big changes in your child’s medication right before camp. If you let your child take “medication vacations” from ADHD medicine, summer camp isn’t the best time for this, since focusing on camp activities and socialization is crucial to your child’s success.
- The more camp staff knows about your child, the better they can partner to make it a great experience for your child. Don’t be hesitant to share information with camp staff, even with delicate subjects, like bed wetting. Trust that camp staff have a lot of experience tactfully and discreetly helping children through sensitive events. Still don’t feel comfortable sharing information with the camp? It might not be the right time for your child to go just yet.
- Encourage your child to communicate with his/her camp counselor. Role-playing is a great way to get your child ready for this, whether s/he is hesitant to ask for extra food because s/he is still hungry, or she started her period for the first time. Educators agree that talking to trusted adults is a necessary tool that helps prepare our children for success.
- Have your children participate in the packing process. Print out the pack-list and pack together – this gives them ownership over what they’re taking (and helps them know what they have once they’re at camp). Use a Sharpie or iron-on tag to label belongings. The more children know about what they have, the higher the likelihood they’ll take better care of their things. This is not just a great life skill to have, it can also alleviate stress for your campers, since they won’t worry about what they do or don’t have with them. Don’t forget to label toiletries!
- What to do with last year’s holey socks and almost-too-small pants? Don’t donate them just yet – these are perfect camp clothes! Hiking and outdoor activities can be rough on clothes and camp isn’t the place for fancy threads or name brands.
These are just a tiny sampling of the fabulous tips offered up in this podcast, take a listen for the rest!
Have any summer camp planning tips for our readers? We’re all ears!