It should be a fun-filled time that leaves wonderful memories, but a camp experience can be marred by health problems: sunburn, a case of poison ivy, even old-fashioned homesickness. Here are some camp experts’ tips for keeping your child a happy camper.
Encourage your child to help choose the camp. That’s a good way to match the camp to your child’s interests and comfort levels, said Connie Rodosovich, general manager of camping services for the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities. Ask questions: What would you like to do at camp? How long do you want to stay? How far away do you want to go? Study websites and other materials to gather details in advance. Many camps offer information nights, with opportunities to meet the staff.
Practice some trial separations. If your child hasn’t spent time away from home before, aside from an occasional overnight at grandma’s, consider a longer trial run, “maybe sleepovers with friends for one or two nights,” Rodosovich suggested.
Pack a water bottle. “Girl Scout campers keep water bottles with them at all times to keep properly hydrated,” said Sara Danzinger, public relations manager for the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. Active campers need a lot of water; a bout of dehydration can put a serious damper on a camp experience.
Have the child take a memento from home. It could be a photo of the family or a pet, a stuffed animal, or some other comforting object. “If they can bring a little piece of home with them, that may prevent homesickness and help them feel a little more comfortable at camp,” Rodosovich said.
Don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellant. In fact, send multiple bottles, in case one gets left behind on a hike, Danzinger said. Smaller bottles are easier to slip into a pocket and keep handy for reapplication on the trail.
Make sure the camp provides helmets for biking or horseback riding. Many camps require them. If they’re not provided, send one along.
Show the child what poison ivy and other irritating plants look like. “We recommend girls stay on trails to avoid any possible interaction with such plants,” Danzinger said. But … you know kids.
Call ahead to discuss any special dietary needs. Most camps can accommodate food limitations, but be sure to provide details ahead of time.
Don’t send your child to camp with a case of lice. Your child will likely be sleeping in close proximity to other kids’ sleeping bags and pillows. “No one wants that as their camp memory,” Danzinger said. Treat the lice, and follow the package instructions to determine how long the lice remain “contagious.” If you have to cancel, many camps will try to reschedule your child for later in the season.
Send non-food care packages. The packages are welcome, but fill them with items other than candy or cookies, Rodosovich advised. “Books are always good. Stickers, fun puzzles – any kind of creative activity or that kind of thing, instead of food.”
To ease separation anxiety (both the child’s and yours!) send letters. Many camps restrict email and electronic devices, but will distribute old-fashioned mail. If the time frame won’t allow using the Postal Service, camp staffers often let you slip them a bundle of letters when the child arrives, to be distributed one at a time during the visit, Rodosovich said. Meanwhile back home, some camps let parents check out their kids’ activities via online photo galleries updated throughout the stay.