How to prepare your child or teen for camp
Often kids, and even parents, can be a little bit apprehensive before attending a camp for the first time. How you deal with these concerns with your child can have an impact on how your child or teenager experiences camp and makes the most of his or her experience.
We discuss some of the best ways in which you can prepare your child for camp before they leave, whether it is a day camp, their first experience of overnight camp or simply a brand new camp they haven’t attended before.
1. Look through the camp website, videos and programme together
Familiarise your child with what camp will be like in advance by looking at website photo albums and videos of camp, and the different types of activities the camp offers. Be positive about camp, let them know how exciting it will be for them, and ask them if they have any questions or concerns. This way you can address them in advance, or contact the camp director if you need answers to some of the questions yourself.
2. Discuss the camp rules and expectations
Discuss the camp’s own guidelines and restrictions with your child in advance. Particularly for older children and teenagers, make sure you talk about what electronics they are allowed to take (eg. mobile phones or iPads) and when they can use them at camp so that they are aware; for instance on our own camp they can only access these devices between 4pm and 6.30pm in free time each day. Discuss the need to respect camp rules and camp staff. If pocket money is allowed, establish a budget for their spending and if you have any guidelines on how this is to be spent, as this can be valuable experience in teaching your child to manage their own money.
Talking about camp regularly in a positive way before your child leaves can ensure they have a wonderful experience and feel happy and comfortable discovering new friends and activities at camp.
3. Involve your child in packing for camp
Help give your child a sense of ownership over the camp experience, by packing what they will need for camp together, whether this is their suitcase for 4 weeks away, or their rucksack for day camp. Work through the packing list together (you can find ours here) and if there is something sentimental such as a toy or a blanket your child is attached to, let them pack that in their suitcase. Try and pack clothes that are used and have been washed that children feel comfortable in, rather than new clothes.
4. Discuss how you will communicate while your child is away
Every camp is different in terms of their rules for contacting parents, but by discussing this in advance with your child you will manage their expectations of when and how often they will be able to speak with you. Usually, and especially if a child is homesick, it’s better not to call a child too often. This can mean they find it easier to settle in and focus on the positives of camp, rather than missing home and family .
Make sure your camper is aware of the rules and expectations of camp in advance so there are no surprises!
5. Practice sharing a room through sleepovers
Often children will be used to having their own bedroom, whereas at camp they will be sharing their room with others. Discuss this with them so they know what to expect, and how they can keep their possessions organised and in their own space. Consider having sleepovers for your child and their friends in the months before camp. This way they will get used to sleeping in shared spaces and they will be excited to share a room with their new friends.
6. Personal Hygiene
Especially for younger children, pack toiletries together and teach your child how to use and handle the items they will take with them. Explain what they should do with dirty clothes (place in laundry bag) and how often they need to be changing clothes and showering. Make sure your child has the basic skills they need including doing their own hair, showering independently, and making their own bed.
7. Saying goodbye
Camp, especially the first one, often causes more separation anxiety in parents than it does in children. Make sure that you do not let your child see that you are anxious, do not be upset when you say goodbye, and ensure you don’t tell your child how much you will miss them. Instead tell them you are excited for them, and you cant wait to hear how much fun they’ve had and all the new things they will see and do.
Even if your child seems upset on departure this is normal – try not to promise them they can leave whenever they like! This may encourage them to give up easily, whereas if your child is excited about camp and committed to completing their session, they are more likely to settle in and experience success and meet goals.
Discuss with your child how camp is a real life experience life any other, and how some times they may feel very happy, and other times bored or a little homesick. Learning to cope with these emotions is all part of growing campers independence.