Sending kids to camp for the first time can often be overwhelming or scary. Several camp experts and parents weighed in with helpful advice, whether you choose a day camp or an overnight camp.
“One of things I would suggest is to research your camp as a parent and visit the camp. I know the week before our camps start, we encourage our parents to visit the site, and that’s pretty far along in the process at that point. When they visit, our director can take them around and show them the rooms they’ll be in, talk about a typical camp day, and give the parent and the camper a brief idea of what their experience will be like during the week.”
– Eric Stinehelfer, executive director at YMCA of Greater Cleveland, French Creek Family YMCA
“It’s helpful for kids to sign up with another child that they know, whether that’s a sibling, a friend, or someone from a scout troop. Sometimes, that will really help a first-time camper feel more comfortable and at home.”
– Mary Rouse, director of Outdoor Experiences for Cleveland Metroparks
“For starters, families need to do their homework. There’s an overwhelming number of choices. Another thing you can do is look at the activities and what the kid is interested in doing. If your child wants to go horseback riding, you don’t want to send them to soccer camp.”
– Dave Devey, director/owner of Falcon Camp
“Parents should read everything that’s given out, carefully, so that the campers come to camp with what they need. Nothing is worse than a camper coming in who is supposed to have a bathing suit, and that camper doesn’t have a bathing suit. Or they’re supposed to bring a water bottle, and that camper doesn’t have a water bottle.”
– Rhonda Rickelman, director of auxiliary programming at Gilmour Academy
“One thing parents can do to gear up for a first- time camp experience is to ask, ‘Do I want play time or learning time?’ The name of our camps is apropos: ‘Classroom Antics’ – We have fun while we learn.”
– Sheri Niedermyer, owner at Classroom Antics
“I think the first thing you have to start with are ‘What are the needs of your child?’ and ‘What are the goals that you have for them attending the camp?’ In recognizing those, then, you can prepare them for those experiences.”
– Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, executive director, Fairmount Center for the Arts
Parents Offer Advice for First-Time Camp Experience
Amy and Dan Dietz of Akron sent their three daughters, ages 8, 10, and 12, to Falcon Camp for the first-time last year. Their youngest, who was 7 at the time, went to the Young Adventure Program for a week, and their older two kids went to camp for two weeks.
“Coming out of 2020 with a lockdown, and all of us being together at all times, Dan and I looked at each other and said, ‘It’s possible they need a little bit of independence.’ Our kids love crafts and outdoor activities from camping to water sports. They are a perfect fit for the camp environment,” says Amy Dietz.
“So, we started to look around to see what options we had, and what would be available with COVID-19, which was something we were very concerned about, as far as sending them at the time. We weren’t sure if they were going to have access to vaccines, or whatever, so that was a big factor for us as far as safety,” she says.
The Dietzes said some of the biggest questions they had prior to camp included: “What are you doing for my homesick child?” and “What COVID-19 safety precautions is the camp taking?”
Parents also like to know things like “What is my child going to eat?” “What will they be doing?” or “What is the process if they get a rash, or fall and hurt themselves?”
The family did a lot of research and didn’t want their children too far away from home. They wanted the camp to be close enough so they could drive to get them if there were any issues, or if their kids got sick.
Amy and Bob Margiotti of Avon Lake also sent their daughter, Sophia, 12, to Falcon Camp. It was her first time going to an overnight camp.
“I will tell you it really was a hard decision for us to send her to camp,” says Amy Margiotti. “We didn’t know what we were going to do. She had been going to the same local summer day camp for years, right in our neighborhood. It was a wonderful experience. Then she aged out of it.
“So we were scrambling to figure out what we were going to do, because what we didn’t want to happen was to have her sitting around the house on her phone, iPad, or her electronic devices all day, which is what I think would have happened if we didn’t send her to camp.”
“We wanted her to be around other kids her age, and we wanted her to be outside, getting fresh air, and not be cooped up at home all day, so that’s what led us to thinking about sending her to a camp,” Margiotti says.
A few questions Margiotti had were: “What is the daily schedule? “What are the activities going to be?” and “How diverse will the activities be?” She also wanted to know more about the camp counselors and what training they had had.
“I also wanted to know about the food, because she’s a picky eater. That was concerning to me, how they were going to eat, and the food that was going to be available to her,” Margiotti says.
The Dietzes say they would tell parents and their kids to tour the camp prior to signing up. A tour will give you the lay of the land mentally, and also give you a better idea of how to pack and prepare your kids. And don’t wait until the last minute to pack, because it does require some planning and thought.
Prior to attending Falcon Camp, they say Camp Director Dave Devey explained what the campers’ days would be like, and he invited parents to come tour the camp and walk through it with him.
“If you can see the camp, it helps visualize what you want to pack, because you get an understanding of the activities, and all of the transitions that they are going to have throughout the day,” Dan Dietz says. “No one wants to send their kid and find out they needed boots for a particular activity, and they didn’t have them. So it’s nice if you’re close enough to visit the camp. I think that’s helpful.”
“Another piece of advice is to start making a list and think through early what your kids will need,” Amy Dietz says. “We have a staging area in our basement, where we started putting clothes, gear and supplies. Because our kids were there the first two weeks of the first session, the weather switched. They had super-hot days, and then, there were a couple of days where it dropped down to the 50s at night.”
So, as the family was packing up their winter clothing, they would add a camp hoodie to the stack of clothing they were taking to camp. The couple said it’s wise to pack items that you don’t care if they get dirty, or you wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t come back in the same shape you sent them.
“If there are things where they are on the verge of growing, or it’s something that got stained at school, those all go into our camp pile,” Amy Dietz says. “We do that now, too. We say, ‘Save that shirt for camp. It’s no longer a school shirt, it’s going to camp.’ So, it’s setting aside some of that stuff early.”
Kids should know what supplies and clothing they have with them at camp, so it’s a good idea to have them help with packing. Make it fun, and don’t wait until the last minute. Most camps provide a checklist of items needed, which is helpful. It’s also wise to label a child’s belongings, and put their name on each item.
One thing not to pack is electronics, because most camps give kids an opportunity to “unplug” while at camp. Margiotti says after returning from camp, their daughter, Sophia, was a different kid, because she didn’t have her electronics at camp.
“Nothing. There was no phone, iPad, or TV during that time, and she could just be a kid,” she says. “She could get up every day, be a kid, and be herself. It was not only a learning experience, but she gained maturity and came into her own. It was an awesome place for her to be herself.”