Sending your child to summer camp?

summer-camp-guide-may2014As a camp director for 20 years, every year I have the full range of families sending kids to camp. Some arrive with clothes well-organized, and thoughtful extras packed lovingly by a parent (flashlight, pre-stamped card, favourite book). Others arrive with hastily thrown-together belongings, most of which are clothes and belongings inappropriate for our camp.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare for camp and what you should expect, to maximize fun and learning.

How do I know if my child is ready for overnight camp?

Coming to camp is a big adventure. Different children are ready at different times, most by age eight or nine, but some camps accept children as young as six. Younger children will enjoy coming with a sibling or friend.

Does your child have an interest in the theme of the camp, i.e. tennis, sailing, or in our case, loves horses, riding and animals? Does your child readily stay at friends’ homes for “sleepovers”? Then he or she will probably enjoy meeting new friends at a residential camp.

If your child is timid and not accustomed to being away but still wishes to come to camp, make sure there are several “sleepovers” to build up confidence before camp.

Also, be sure not to choose a camp that is too advanced for your child. If the camp has a week for more experienced kids, “fibbing” will quickly be discovered, and your child will be resented by the others for holding back a class.

If you aren’t sure, honestly discuss your child’s level in that specialty with the camp director or program leader, and maybe enjoy a day camp this year and try an overnight program next year.

What should campers bring to camp?

Carefully read your camp’s “what to bring” lists. Each item is based on the camp director’s experience. Too often we see kids without gloves or hats for an outdoor winter camp, or without a sun hat for summer camp. Do not let your kids pack for themselves!

The average 10-year-old has no idea what to bring. Even teens often do not read the list and pack makeup and flat irons instead of socks!

What items shouldn’t a child bring to camp?

You would expect most of these to be common sense, but let’s review them anyway:

1. Do not send your camper with junk food, as it may cause disruption when kids “play favourites,” and could affect mealtime appetites and energy levels. Many camps have a canteen available. Children may be sent with small amounts of money (recommended by the camp) for this purpose.

2. Gum. Your child may choke on it while participating in a sports activity.

3. Cell phones and iPods. These items will cause disruptions and distract from camp activities, keep other campers awake, and could be lost or broken.

4. Any pocketknife, matches, lighters, unless specifically re-
quested. Absolutely no cigarettes.

For obvious reasons. It is
standard practice at any reputable camp to confiscate any contraband items until the end of the camp session for the safety and well-being of all campers.

Health and medical

Please discuss your child’s special medical needs with the camp director prior to arrival. Send a written note with the camp application.

When it is necessary to send medication, clearly label the container with the child’s name and medication instructions and provide it to the camp director for storage. DO NOT send medication with your child to be self-administered.

My child is a little “heavyset.” How does this affect their ability to participate in a camp?

Don’t set your child up for failure. There are camps that will highlight your child’s abilities, instead of singling out shortfalls.

Try an art or theatre camp for a child who may be injured from lack of fitness at a sports camp, or find an outdoor camp which can tailor the activity level to your child.

There are two issues which help us to decide feasibility. One is having a certain degree of muscle tone and balance. The other is weight, which heavily impacts balance.

If the student is much above average in the body mass index we find that, combined with low muscle tone, the student will have trouble keeping up.

If you are not sure of the difference between a few pounds overweight and obese, measure your child’s height and weight and check a body mass index site on the Internet.

Should my child come home if he/she becomes home-sick? Should I expect that he/she can phone home?

No. Most reputable camps do not allow telephone calls. Parents may, however phone the camp.

Campers who experience homesickness discover a strength and feeling of accomplishment when they stay to complete the week. Phoning home tends to disrupt all of the other children and the camper.

Also, don’t “create” homesickness by writing to tell the child that they will feel homesickness, the dog misses them, etc.

Can I write to my child and can she/ he write home? 

Camps encourage mail, especially postcards and cheery note cards, which always bring a smile. Tell your child about something fun you’ll do when he/she gets home. Send some pre-stamped envelopes or postcards for the camper to send home.

Many campers bring a small notebook or journal to chronicle their days, paste in wildflowers, and to record addresses of new friends.

As a final note: No matter what type of camp you choose, make sure you and your child understand what the camp is all about, and what your camp expects before your child arrives. Talk to your camp director for specifics about your camp. Happy camping!

Cheryl Spencer is the owner and camp director of Raspberry Ridge Farms horse riding camp. She may be reached at 

Photo: © belchonock