What a Camp Counselor Won't Tell You
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Summer Secrets1 of 14
By Amanda Greene for Woman's Day
Going away to camp can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a child's life—you just have to consider a few important details. Whether your kid is a seasoned camper or is embarking on their first summer away from home, these tips we've gathered from camp counselors and directors across the country will help ensure that your child has a summer they'll remember forever.
Stay In Touch…2 of 14
…but not too much. You certainly don't want to drop off your kids at camp and not speak again until you pick them up, but too much contact can hamper their experience. "In general, the less children speak to their parents, the less homesick they are," says Driben. If your daughter is a little anxious about being away after you drop her off, then wait a week or so before you call her so that she has a chance to settle in and make friends, which, according to Driben, usually takes three to five days.
We Really Care3 of 14
According to Mary,* who was a counselor at a sleep-away camp in northeastern Pennsylvania for four years, staff members "want to give your kids the same amazing experience we had when we were campers, so we aren’t going to do anything to jeopardize that." [*Name has been changed.]
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You Can Relax4 of 14
It can be nerve-wracking to leave your child in the care of people you hardly know. But rest assured: The vast majority of counselors take their jobs seriously. "We train our staff on everything from how to manage a group of kids to how to teach effectively and how to perform first aid," says Sarah Horner Fish, director at Tom Sawyer Camps in Pasadena, CA.
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Camp Is Important5 of 14
Any counselor will tell you that camp is about so much more than doing a few craft projects or playing field games. "There may not be a blackboard and a bunch of desks, but it's really a continuation of the education process," says Jack Driben, co-managing director of The Camp Experts & Teen Summers. As Sarah puts it, camp picks up where many schools leave off. "Teachers don't often have the opportunity to explain how to handle conflicts or deal with hurt feelings. At summer camp, you really get to focus on social skills."
Don't Be Sneaky6 of 14
Cell phones are banned at almost every camp, and are collected from kids as soon as they arrive, says Joanne Paltrowitz, co-managing director of The Camp Experts & Teen Summers. "Some parents give their child a second cell phone, but it's not worth it. There's hardly any cell service where most camps are located, and it will run out of battery anyway. Don't even bother trying." However, writing letters and sending a few care packages is a great way to stay in touch without being too overbearing.
Send Care Packages7 of 14
Speaking of, most camps will not allow food to be sent in care packages, since snacks can attract pests and critters and may aggravate other campers' food allergies. According to Jenkins, crafts items, like markers, stickers and sketch pads, are always a hit, as are T-shirts or baseball caps with the camp's name on them. "Some kids are also excited to see hints of home, like newspaper clippings or a photo of their pet, but depending on how happy they are at camp, these things can make them even more homesick," she says.
Be Candid8 of 14
Camp staffers are more than happy to accommodate everything from food allergies to more serious medical conditions—as long as they're aware of them ahead of time. All camps have an onsite wellness center staffed by either a registered nurse or doctor, who administers medications. But to ensure that your child is properly cared for, call the camp's director a couple weeks before camp starts to brief him or her on what precautions need to be taken.
Stuff Gets Stolen9 of 14
A stuffed animal that your child can't bear to part with is one thing, but leave fancy jewelry, designer jeans or expensive electronics at home. "We can't keep track of these items, and when we get a call from a parent asking where they are, we just don't know," says Mary. "They could have gone home with another child, or they could be covered in mud. Just don't bring them—that solves the problem."
Teach Cleaning10 of 14
If you've been in the habit of tidying up after your son or daughter, then a little tutorial in cleaning might be in order before camp begins. "Kids need to learn how to make their bed before they get to camp," says Jenkins. But their responsibilities go beyond just bed-making: "Cabins get inspected and campers get graded on their tidiness, so everyone's going to be mad at the one kid who can't pick up after himself."
Do Your Research11 of 14
This can make all the difference when it comes to a successful summer away for your child. Check out different resources, like The Camp Experts & Teen Summers—which provides free summer camp consultations to parents and represents more than 950 camps and summer programs worldwide—and the American Camp Association—which has listings for 2,400 accredited camps across the country—to find out what possibilities are out there.
Do More Research12 of 14
Speak to camp directors about the culture before you sign up your child. Tell them if your youngster is shy, gregarious or in need of plenty of one-on-one attention in order to thrive. Also consider your kid's interests: If your child thrives in the creative arts, then six weeks at baseball camp isn't going to be a great experience for them—and might be a waste of money for you.
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Camp Makes Confidence13 of 14
If your daughter tends to get bullied or left out at school, then sending her to live with a bunch of girls her age for weeks on end can seem like a questionable idea. But camp is actually a place where kids who don't fit in at school can blossom. "You can really be yourself there, and it's a lot easier to get to know people, because there's no pretending. Kids have left everything from home behind so you really see them open up," says Mary.
Start Slowly14 of 14
There's a difference between a little apprehension about going away for the summer and debilitating separation anxiety. If your son is insisting that he doesn't want to go away, then "start with day camp and then move toward sleep-away camp in small doses," says Driben. There are a variety of camp lengths to choose from, though Driben advises a minimum of two weeks so that kids aren't forced to leave the minute they finally settle in.