A child’s first time at an overnight camp can be a big step for everyone in the family. Whether it’s a half week, one week, or two week program, it can be an adjustment for everyone involved. We love our sleepaway programs, and want to help set up all our campers and camper families for success during what may be their first summer away.
Here are some tips for you to prepare yourself, and your camper for an overnight summer camp experience.
10 Tips to prepare your first-time camper for summer overnight camp:
Know what to expect - Look over your chosen camp’s website, watch camp videos, and speak with current campers and staff so that you know what to expect out of the camp program..
Instill independence - There will be some things that your camper will be expected to be able to do on their own. Personal hygiene tasks like toothbrushing, showering, and hairbrushing are some. If your child has trouble with personal hygiene tasks, practicing before the summer starts to get them independent will increase everyone’s confidence and lower stress. Likewise, if your camper takes regular medication, now is a great time to make sure they are aware of their dosage, and when they take them. The camp will have a camp nurse, or other healthcare administrator, but it never hurts for your camper to know their stuff.
Practice sleeping away from home - If your camper is going to sleepaway camp for the first time, and has never had the opportunity to sleep away from home, and their family unit, now is a great time to practice. Grandparent and other family sleepovers are a good starting point, but a sleepover at a trusted friend’s place is even better.
Packing - It is tempting to take care of your camper’s packing list without their help. Afterall, you probably know what fits, what doesn’t, and what clothing items you do and don’t want going to camp, but we encourage you to include your campers in as much of the prepwork for camp as possible. If you need to shop for supplies, let them pick out their own flashlight, sleeping bag, etc. If your camper leads the charge on what to pack, and getting things in their bag, they will be more likely to get excited about the experience ahead of them, as well as know where the items they need are in their bag once they are out at camp.
Set your own expectations - have a talk with your camper about homesickness, what to expect as far as communication from you, etc. Remember snail mail is called “snail mail” for a reason, even if you write letters to your camper everyday they may not receive them everyday, and very few camps allow for regular phone calls home.
Give them a taste of home - while you are packing, make sure to include some comfort items from home. Favorite books, stuffed animals, and photos of family members (and family pets!) are great for bringing to camp. Your camper will likely be sharing space with other campers during their time away, so you may want to have conversations regarding which items may be too precious to send to camp. Items have the potential to get lost or dirty.
Get them excited - help your camper come up with a list of new things to try at camp. When they come home they can tell you how everything went!
Write fun letters/send care packages - campers love getting mail at camp. It might be worth dropping a few off with the staff at camper drop off, or mailing letters in advance of camp beginning so that your camper gets something in the first few days (remember it’s called snail mail for a reason). If you plan to send a care package, make sure to check with the camp before sending food items. Some camps have restrictions on what campers are and are not allowed to keep in their sleeping areas, and a bag of candy or cookies that the camper isn’t permitted to keep might have the opposite effect.
Set them up for success - After many years working with campers at summer camp, we’ve learned a few things that are helpful in setting your camper up for success. Firstly, it is important that you are confident in them, and that they will have a great time at camp. Telling them that you will come and pick them up from camp if they are miserable stops a lot of campers from truly embracing the camp experience, and can increase homesickness. Make sure your camper knows that they will have fun, and that you can’t wait to hear all about it. Don’t worry, the camp administrative team will reach out to you if they feel that your camper is having unusual trouble missing home.
Short and sweet goodbyes - long emotional goodbyes can set your camper up to feel guilty and homesick right off the bat. In fact, many campers state that they feel homesick because they are worried about how their family is doing without them. You read that right. Campers get sad, because they worry that YOU are sad. Some even feel guilty that they are having a good time without you.
If homesickness is a major concern for your first-time overnight camper, feel free to reach out to the camp staff/director ahead of the summer season. Many directors can help you and your family come up with a homesickness plan before the start of camp. Many times just meeting the camp director, or other campers in advance of camp can ease some of the stress of being away from home, as there will at least be one familiar face.
The Story School prides itself on being a great summer camp experience for first time campers. Our unique story based programming attracts campers who may not have been interested in attending other, more traditional, camp offerings.
The Story School is working hard this summer to make any hero’s first time at camp as comfortable as possible. We have a single-week session for 1st time campers during the week of July 2nd - July 7th. If they love it, they can easily add on the second week. Secondly, we also have a brand new “New Heroes” webpage with resources for those coming to us for the first time. Finally, we have a parent group for new, returning, and prospective families to share experiences and information. If you have a first-time camper and are considering The Story School, please feel free to reach out to us. We are happy to answer your questions, meet your camper in advance, and do whatever we can to make sure that both you and your camper are comfortable, and excited, for a summer of adventure.
Youth Development Outcomes Research Study - spanning 5,000 families and 80 different camp programs