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Camp 101: First Time At Camp – How to Prepare Your Child

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Hey, Camp Parents!

Research shows children reap emotional, social, and physical benefits from attending summer camp.

So as a parent, you can give your children two gifts. The first is to send them to camp and the second is to prepare them for it so they are more likely to have the best possible experience.

The thought of sending a child away overnight for the first time can cause panic for both you and your child, but you can lessen the anxiety by following a few steps:

•  Practice for it.
•  Build independence.
•  Talk about it.
•  Involve your child.

Practice for it
A family camping trip is a good way to get your child used to sleeping out in nature and away from the comforts of home. Make it fun by bringing plenty to do. Go fishing, pitch horseshoes, and go on a hike. At night, build a campfire and roast s’mores. Your child will forever connect the taste of chocolate and marshmallow with having fun out in nature. At night, stare at the stars in the night sky.

As a dry run, you could even pitch a tent in the backyard and sleep out there before you take a real camping trip away from home. This is good practice for teaching them to sleep in a sleeping bag, rather than a bed. Leave all the electronic devices – cell phones, iPods, and iPads – at home. Your child will have to get used to that, too.

Part of success at summer camp depends on children learning to be away from parents. Set up sleepovers at other people’s houses, such as your child’s grandparents and one of his or her friends. The fun had away from home will reduce your child’s fear.

Build independence
Help your child build a feeling of independence before he leaves for camp. One way to do this is by giving your child responsibilities such as making her bed, cleaning her room, or making a simple meal or snack for herself. Hold your child accountable for completing these tasks, because at camp she will be required to help out and clean up.

Allow your child to make as many decisions as possible leading up to camp. On that camping trip, allow him to choose some of the activities the family engages in.

Think about the things your children will have to do at camp without you, and allow them to do these things without your help. Your daughter should brush her long hair by herself. It might end up a bit tangled, but that’s OK. Let your son pick out his own clothes for the day, even if it’s not the outfit you would choose for him.

Teach your children what they need to know and allow them to do those things themselves. At many camps, your child will be able to send you mail but not communicate electronically. Have your child write a letter to a relative, and ask her to address and stamp the envelope.

Talk about it
Your child will feel better about camp if you discuss it with him in detail and answer all his questions. Begin the conversations as far in advance as possible.

If your child is apprehensive, let her know it is normal to be a little scared of new situations, but she will feel better once she gets there, meets people and starts having fun. Ask your child about his fears and reassure him that the other kids will feel that way, but he or she will adjust. Your child will pick up on your emotional state, so project a positive attitude. If you feel good about it, she will likely feel good about it. Be calm and create an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing her concerns and approaching you with questions. Don’t tell your child how much you’ll miss him. Tell him how much fun he will have.

Find out what you can about day-to-day life at the camp. What will your child do each day? How many other kids will be there? How many counselors? What and where will they eat? Where will they go to the bathroom? Discuss all these questions with your child. Make a list of questions with your child for camp staff, and get answers as soon as possible. Reducing the unknown will make your child feel better about what’s to come.

For younger children, choose a book about a child who goes to summer camp, read it together, and talk about it afterward. How does your child feel about it? Older children might enjoy a funny summer camp movie as a conversation starter.

Work out a communication plan. Learn camp policies on phone use and mail, and explain to your child how often he or she will be able to communicate with you and what form that will take.

Involve your child
Make preparation for camp something you do together with your child every step of the way. That includes decision about which camp to attend and looking at the camp website and other promotional materials together. This helps build excitement and makes your child feel more invested in the decision to go.

Begin shopping and packing early. When shopping together, allow your daughter to pick out the swimsuit with the crazy colors or the Three Cheers for Girls Beach Towel and Bag Set. The more you get done early, the less stressful it will be in the days leading up to leaving. So get movin’ now so you won’t have to later and, as always, thank for reading!


- John


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