Summer overnight camp is a big step for kids — and their parents. Advanced preparation is key to reducing anxiety and creating a positive, exciting lead-up to the experience for everyone in the family. Here’s a month-by-month primer to prepping for overnight camp.
February: Choose a Camp
According to the American Camp Association’s “Camper Enrollment Report 2017,” eight percent of camps were 100 percent full in 2017 and 61 percent were 80-99 percent full, so select a camp and enroll early to secure a spot for your child. Aim to have one nailed down by the end of February. Align your preference with your child’s interest, then start looking at camp websites to narrow it down to a short list.
“Talk to the camp director and find out if they’re accredited by the American Camp Association,” says David Faulstich, executive director at Red Oak Camp in Kirtland. “Ask about staff training, ask about how they handle discipline, and how they handle homesickness.”
Amy McCartney, whose children attended Falcon Camp in Carrollton, Ohio, talked to family friends to get advice and find out about their experience.
“I would advise parents to do quite a bit of research and try to have first-hand accounts for the experience. Talk with families who have gone through the camp that you are considering,” McCartney says. “We relied heavily on our close family friends who had taken all three of their kids to Falcon.”
March: Make a Budget
Sleepaway camps’ tuitions typically include accommodation, food, necessities and general overhead costs. Depending on your preference and the camp’s policies, you may choose to pay the full cost upfront (sometimes at a discount) or opt for a payment plan. But keep in mind that tuition won’t be the only associated expense. You’ll want to talk with the director of the camp to find out about any additional fees. Some camps have extra costs for uniforms, field trips or transportation, and many have camp stores where campers can purchase snacks and other small items. Think about what you want to spend on appropriate clothing, shoes and other items that your child will need at camp, and build that into your overall budget.
April: Prepare for Camp
About two months before the start of camp, fill out all of the required paperwork. All ACA-accredited camps require either a health history or a physical exam of campers to be completed before camp begins, so schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor to make sure it’s done in time. Now’s also a good time to start (if you haven’t already) building up excitement. This helps both the kids and the parents prepare emotionally for the time away. Spend extra quality time together and talk about the things you and they are most excited about.
May: Start Packing
In the month prior to camp, it’s time to start packing. Most camp websites have a thorough packing list, or it may be included in a camper’s packet.
“We spent a lot of time reviewing the packing list provided by the camp, gathered what we could from our own camping supplies, and supplemented by purchasing a few additional items,” says
Jane Neubauer, whose 14-year-old son Fritz attended overnight camp at Red Oak last summer. “The camp gave us great suggestions for what he would (and would not) need to ensure he would be prepared but still be able to manage his pack.”
June: When They’re Gone
It can be a very emotional experience for parents to drop off their kids at overnight camp, but try not to let your child see this as stressful for you.
“Focus on the fun,” says Joe Mendes, owner and camp director of Camp Roosevelt-Firebird in Bowerston, Ohio. “It’s usually the parents and not the kids who are more worried, and this can bring on homesickness. A positive independent experience builds self-esteem and resiliency.”
Beth Hertz, mother of Alyssa and Joshua (both campers from age 10-15 at Falcon Camp), said it’s a good time to connect with other family members.
“When it was just our oldest going, I made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to plan a few special outings with our youngest,” Hertz says. “Once they both started going, we made a habit of planning a few days’ trip in the second week or so to make the best of our kids-free time!”