Staying well at camp

If this summer will mark your child’s first time at a sleepaway camp, take heart — we have the tips to help them thrive

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With summer fast approaching, you may already be searching for residential camp options with input from your children, or making the drive to check out facilities. After all, research is key to a good camp experience.

Camp is a wonderful learning and social experience for children and can create memories that will last a lifetime. To ensure your child has the safest camp possible, we scanned our archives for tips to keep your kids well while away from home.

Ensure your child is ready for camp

Although camp is a great place for kids to learn new skills, make sure your child is ready for the experience. Different children are ready at different times. If your child has an interest in a theme of a certain camp, eg. horseback riding or tennis; stays at friends’ homes for sleepovers (and makes it until morning without a tearful phone call home), then they may be ready for a residential camp.

But if your child is younger (under eight or nine), timid and not accustomed to sleeping away from home, perhaps look into another option. Try a day camp this year, get a few overnight camps under their belts, or choose a camp close to home.

Pack thoughtfully

Camps will provide kit lists, or lists of things to bring. Ensure you have all suggested items on the list, and allow your child to put everything in the bag (so they know what they have and can recognize their own things), but double check to make sure everything has indeed been placed in the bag, and labelled with the child’s name before it leaves the house. Do not send large amounts of money, jewelry and valuables or electronics, unless it’s mentioned by camp coordinators that it is OK. Allow your child to bring a stuffed friend, but perhaps not the favourite, as there is always the risk of it being lost. Being prepared for any circumstance alleviates stress and anxiety, for both parents and their children.

Learn the camp’s policy on medication

Allergies — and medication for children — are more common than ever. Staff are trained on protocol surrounding medication, so don’t let the fact that your child has medication deter you from sending them to camp. Generally, here’s what will happen: medication will be collected in the original labelled container and stored in the health centre to be administered at the correct time by the health care staff. An exception might be EpiPens, which are carried in a fanny pack by children with severe allergies.

Get to know the camp staff

Selected for their patience, understanding, competence and experience, camp counsellors are the ones with the closest, most consistent contact with the campers. They choose to be camp counsellors because they enjoy working with children, and will be there for your child should they become homesick, feel unwell, or need assistance and guidance. Staff are also taught to recognize and deal with bullying, fears and anxieties. Tell your child to seek out key camp staff upon arrival, and to keep them abreast of any concerns.

Know what to expect to find on the menu

Camp food managers plan their menus to provide a healthy, nutritious diet while keeping children’s food preferences in mind. The camp’s kitchen staff will be made aware of your child’s food allergies and any special dietary needs, so be as accurate as possible when sending in your application.

Plan for unstructured time

Although your camper will be kept busy and active, most camps will have a rest period during the day to allow campers to regroup or chat with friends. This downtime and opportunity for free play and to exercise choice is a stress-reliever and crucial for staying well mentally and emotionally.

Write to your child (and encourage letters)

Each camp has a different policy for parent communication (some post information on a website, some encourage campers to send letters home and others will receive and relay emails to the campers). Find out how parents and kids are expected to communicate and if it’s allowed, send your child a letter or a message and tell them about something fun you’ll do together when they get home. That encouraging note could be the boost they need to get through a challenging day. Include some stamped, pre-addressed envelopes or postcards to facilitate letter writing. If the camp is of a shorter duration and the child is expected home before a letter arrives to them at camp, another option is to include a notebook or journal for the camper to chronicle their days, paste in wildflowers, and to record addresses of new friends.

… But don’t make them homesick

Although parents may contact the camp, refrain from doing so unless it is urgent. Don’t create homesickness by telling your child that you miss them, or that it’s OK to feel homesick. Campers often feel a sense of accomplishment when they “survive” a week at camp.

Celebrate your child’s successes

Getting through a first camp is a milestone, so celebrate your child when they return home. Give lots of hugs, tell them how proud you are, and watch their self-esteem grow even more. Let them regale you with their stories over the dinner table, “ooh” and “aah” over their treasures gathered from the great outdoors, and marvel at how much they’ve grown (even if they’ve only been gone for a week). After all, growth — and wellness — are on both the outside and inside.



  • With files from Catherine Ross and Cheryl Spencer