This guest blog post is brought to you by Christl Dabu for OurKids.net, Canada's trusted source for camps and schools.
It’s a place where phone calls and emails are limited and cellphones are usually banned. But in the real world of camp, “bubble-wrapped” kids will get an experience of a lifetime.
The hardest part for parents of first-time campers is not only getting children to adjust to a digital-free world but also allowing them to find their own wings.
Catherine Ross, former camp director and communications manager of the Canadian Camping Association, understands the “leap of faith” it requires for parents to send their children to overnight camp.
“On countless arrival days, I greeted many cautious, apprehensive, wide-eyed new campers,” Ross writes in Our Kids Media’s Preparing for Camp e-book for parents of new campers. “Two or four weeks later, I waved goodbye to the same children – now happy, relaxed and definitely more confident.”
Advice for New Campers
• Familiarity can calm fears and worries about anything new. If visiting the camp in advance is not possible, check out the camp’s website, view the DVD and other materials sent by the camp, chat about your concerns with your parents, and get answers to your questions, Ross says. “Make the pre-camp preparation part of the experience so (campers) get excited and know what to expect,” she says. “The more you know, the less you’re going to be concerned of the unknown.”
• Talking to friends who have been to camp can help make the new experience less scary.
• To experience being away from home, sleep over at a friend’s or relative’s house.
• Learn to be more independent by helping with chores, such as shopping with your parents, making the bed, organizing belongings, and packing and preparing what you need to bring to camp.
Advice for Parents
▪ Share as much information as you can about the camp. Attend orientations for new campers, or go on a pre-camp visit of the site with your child.
▪ When packing, include well-worn clothes that can withstand dirt and pine gum.
▪ Avoid packing money or jewellery.
▪ To prevent mixing up belongings with others, use iron-on labels, or label all clothes and equipment with permanent marker or bright nail polish. (Click here to see a list of suggested items to pack.)
▪ Pack an adequate supply of medication with clearly labelled dosage instructions.
▪ Store your child’s EpiPen, asthma puffer and other items he or she needs to access immediately in a fanny pack.
▪ Include a list of all campers’ belongings to avoid losing any.
▪ Let camp health care staff know if your child has recently discontinued medication, such as Ritalin, or has been exposed to a communicable disease.
▪ If your child is apprehensive about camp, inform the camp director so counsellors can give even more attention to him or her.
▪ Chatting about camp in a casual and positive way without dwelling on the negative or creating unrealistic expectations can help immensely in preparing the first-time camper.
▪ Ask your child to think about what he or she wants to do and learn at camp. Allow your child to set goals and enjoy his or her own first impressions about camp to avoid clashes between your agenda and your child’s preferences. With camp’s focus on fun and safety, learning and achievement in a safe environment will happen at your child’s own pace.
▪ If your child is committed to finish the session, he or she has a better chance of experiencing success and meeting goals. On the other hand, promising your child that he or she can leave whenever they want may encourage him or her to test this, or give up easily instead of gaining valuable life lessons.
▪ Check your child’s hair for head lice or ensure your child gets treatment before starting camp.
▪ Since most new campers never experience prolonged homesickness, parents should not raise the issue unless the child brings it up. If your child expresses his or her concerns about being homesick, reassure him or her that it is normal to miss home, and he or she will be okay and will not be alone at camp as counsellors will always be there to help. Remind your child about the many new and exciting things to do at camp that will make the time fly by.
▪ Prepare short letters that are positive, newsy, encouraging and supportive to your child during the time he or she is away. Ask relatives if they would like to write as well. You can slip a letter in your child’s bag to pleasantly surprise him or her at the first day at camp. Pack paper, pen and addressed, stamped envelopes for your child.
▪ Avoid packing or sending candy or food as most camps ban them for good reasons.
▪ One of the most important tips for parents of new campers? “I think it’s involving the child every step of the way so there are no surprises,” Ross says.
Give your kids a Summer Camp experience this year. Find top camp for kids and teens at www.ourkids.net/camp.