The period before camp calls for both physical and psychological preparations.
Familiarity can calm fears and worries about anything new. If visiting the camp in advance is not possible, check out the camp's website, social media sites, DVD and information packages. Chat about your concerns with your parents, and get answers to your questions, Ross says. "Make the pre-camp preparation part of the experience so you get excited and know what to expect," she says. "The more you know, the less you're going to be concerned of the unknown."
Talking to friends who have been to camp can help make the new experience less scary.
To experience being away from home, sleep over at a friend's or relative's house.
Learn to be more independent by helping with chores, such as shopping with your parents, making the bed, organizing your belongings and packing what you need to bring to camp.
One of the most important tips for parents of new campers? "I think it's involving the child every step of the way so there are no surprises," Ross says.
Complete all forms with accurate and current information and submit them on schedule.
Attend the orientation for new campers, if offered. The more a child knows about the staff, program and other campers the easier his introduction to camp will be. Some camps host an Open House on the camp property or an event in urban centres where a number of the campers reside.
When packing: the camp should provide a packing list to follow. Include well-worn clothes that can withstand dirt and pine gum. Avoid bringing money or jewelery. Don't pack or send junk food as most camps ban them for good reasons. To prevent mixing up or losing belongings, use labels, or label all clothes and equipment with permanent marker or bright nail polish. Write down a list of all your child's stuff.
Attend to medical matters. If your child is taking a prescription medicine, send an adequate supply in the original container with the instructions on the label. On arrival at camp, all medication will be locked in the health centre and dispensed under the supervision of the health care staff with the exception of medication that is required immediately such as an EpiPen® or asthma puffer. A fanny pack keeps these items always accessible. If you have decided to discontinue a medication, for example Ritalin, during the camp session, this is also pertinent information for the health care staff. If your child has been exposed to a communicable disease shortly before camp starts, the camp needs to know. Let camp health care staff know if your child has recently discontinued medication or has been exposed to a communicable disease.
Inform the Director if your camper is apprehensive. This important information will be relayed to the counsellor who will then be alerted to pay even closer attention to your child’s integration in the first few days.
Avoid raising the issue about homesickness unless your child brings it up. If your child has concerns about being homesick, reassure him or her that it is normal, and he or she will have support from other campers and camp staff. (We've written more on homesickenss).
Chat about camp in a casual and positive way. If you are a former enthusiastic camper, be careful not to recall your past experiences in such glowing terms that might create unrealistic expectations. Allow your child to enjoy their own first impressions. As pre-camp mailings arrive, share the information with your child.
Allow your camper to set their own goals. Problems can arise if a parent’s agenda does not match the child’s preferences. Although you are a keen canoeist who loved extended trips in the wilderness, your daughter may prefer the arts and drama program on site. Learning and achievement will happen, but at the child’s pace, with the focus on fun!
Resist making foolish promises. Assume that your child will remain for the entire session. Occasionally a reluctant camper persuades his parents to promise to take him home if he does not like camp. Parents must not fall into this trap! The best approach is, “Give it your best try this summer and at the end of your stay, we will discuss if you want to return next year.” An apprehensive camper has a better chance of success if he is committed to finish the session. If a child knows you’ll give him the option to leave at his request, he may decide to test your word at the first hint of a problem: unpleasant weather, a failed swim test or a disagreement with a cabin mate. For his own personal growth and self-esteem, having made the commitment, the child should see it through.
You can be assured that if it is in the best interests of your child to leave camp prematurely, the director will be in touch with you. In my twenty years directing a girls’ camp, we encouraged and supported our share of homesick campers. Only once, when her parents arrived unexpectedly for a visit, a homesick camper left five days before the end of her session. Two days later, a note arrived for her tent mates saying that she regretted her early departure and was now “campsick”!
Shortly before departure, check your child's hair for head lice, and if discovered treat it. Camps should examine every camper on arrival. There are camps that send children home for treatment rather than risk the spread to other campers. Because of the close quarters in sleeping cabins and the sharing of sports helmets or dress-up hats for skit nights, head lice can spread quickly in a camp setting.
Whether driving to the camp site or a bus departure location, be punctual and prepared to leave promptly. Parents who hover make it difficult for new campers to get started. Check in with the staff on duty. If there are last minute instructions for the camp, deliver these in writing, rather than verbally, to the staff person in charge. At the bus, say your goodbyes at the door and leave your camper to find their own seat with the help of the supervising staff. Camp parents clogging the narrow aisles make it difficult to load the bus and depart on time.
A quick goodbye hug and kiss is fine with girls; boys may prefer a smile and a wave.
Your new camper is ready to start a great adventure! You have done your research and received satisfactory answers to all your questions. Now you can confidently place your faith and trust in the experience and skills of the camp director and his staff to do their very best for your child.
The camp staff programs your child’s arrival very carefully to ensure a smooth transition.
First the camper is introduced to his/her counsellor and the members of the cabin group. Together they go to their cabin to begin unpacking. A guided tour to familiarize the children with the property includes checking in at the health centre to meet the health care staff and to deliver any medications. After a meal, the group will often participate in an activity with their own age group section. All-camp activities are usually scheduled a day or two later to allow campers to become comfortable with a smaller group then graduate to the entire camp community. After evening program and a bedtime snack, the counsellor will lead his group through the bedtime routine: washing, brushing teeth, quiet conversation, songs and stories. The counsellor will describe any night sounds that might worry his new campers. He will confirm that flashlights are handy. He will reassure his group that they are not alone and that someone is on night duty.