Two of my three boys left for sleepaway camp this week. It was challenging on many levels for all of us. This is the third summer for my oldest and he was excited to go. Not so for the middle guy. He was anxious and unsure. He’s heard us talking about summer camp for years and it was finally his turn. But not knowing what to expect is scary, especially when you’re 11. His brother and 5 cousins joined him on his journey, which provided some comfort, but there was still ambivalence. Not to mention I was a mess, but tried desperately not to let them know.
Both boys put their best foot forward and traveled by car, plane and bus to camp. Now in the arms of the camp, the same camp I trusted as a camper and staff member, they’re off to create their own adventures and memories. I finally have a smile on my face knowing that they’re safe and hopefully having as much fun at sleepaway camp as I did.
In hindsight there are a few things which were helpful in our sleepaway camp preparations.
Whether your child is headed away for the first time or is a veteran hopefully these tips will help them prepare for their own sleepaway camp experience.
Have a sleepover or two. Nothing like a practice run before sending your children off for a few weeks away from home. A sleepover is a simple way to get them used to being away from home overnight.
Before camp starts get in touch with other campers. This was incredibly helpful. We participated in a conference call that the camp organized with campers from all over the country. The campers had an opportunity to ask questions and have them answered immediately. Just by seeing the faces of other first-time campers my son realized that he wasn’t the only one.
Involve your child in the packing. Packing for camp is a big job and at times it would probably be easier to do it all on your own without child involvement. Having your child participate in the packing is crucial. They begin to come to terms with going to camp. It becomes real. They also need to know what they’re bringing with them. My sons were very excited while we were packing together once they saw all of the ‘fun’ equipment being packed into the bag. We packed a fancy flashlight, a fan with a water mister, an organizer to hang on the bunk and other camp necessities.
Get ready to be unplugged. Many camps have ‘no technology’ policy in place. Our camp just implemented a “Interactive Screen-Free” policy this year. That means no screen time while at camp. Personally I love this. My kids don’t get a lot of screen time at home, but it’s nice to think that they’re going to a place where everyone will be in the same boat and they actually have to talk to each other! Imagine that. Make sure your child is aware of this policy.
Talk about feelings. About a month before camp we started checking in with the kids about how they were feeling. Our goal was to open a door for an opportunity to share their feelings about being away from home. There were times when the discussions didn’t lead anywhere and other times when the floodgates opened.
What advice would you give to someone headed to sleepaway camp for the first time?