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Sleepaway Camp: Tips for First-Timers & Parents

get ready for this big event

There are few things more exciting in a kid’s life than their first sleepaway camp. But how do you prepare your kids—and yourself—for this big event? Drawing on my own experiences as the parent of a happy camper, as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve identified eight things you should do.

Prepare For Camp Together

You want your kids to take ownership of this exciting experience. To do that, prepare for camp together. Shop together for all the stuff on the packing list and pack jointly using luggage that isn’t too difficult to carry. You should also talk to your kids about all the incredible things they’re going to experience, and explain the rules and expectations of the camp.

Pack Clothing For All Kinds Of Weather

When you pack your kids’ clothes, don’t pack their best items.

Whether it’s a sports camp or any other type of camp, there are likely to be outdoor activities where clothing will get stained, torn or ruined. Pack their most durable clothes, and make sure that there are clothes for all kinds of weather, for sunny, warm days and rainy, cool days.

Most importantly, label everything with your kids’ names. A good friend of ours forgot to do that for their daughter’s first sleepaway camp. She came home with all kinds of wild clothes they’d never seen before.

Have a Sleepover – Or Two

Your kids are going to be away from you—possibly for the first time—and maybe for an extended period of time. Some kids have absolutely no problem adjusting; others need to dip their feet in the water slowly. Organize a couple of sleepovers with their friends—and do it at their friends’ houses to get them used to being away from you.

Speak to Parents In Your Neighborhood

No matter how confident your kids are that they’re going to be just fine without you, it’s always a good idea to bring them some comfort from home to camp. Reach out to other parents from your kids’ school or your neighborhood to see if they plan on sending their kids to the same camp. Most camps let parents request that their kids bunk with one or more of their local friends.

Contribute Money To The Candy Store

Most sleepaway camps have a store where kids can buy candy with money that parents have contributed to an account. If your child’s camp has a similar store, ask the camp director what amount parents typically contribute to this account, and then contribute the same amount if you can.

Get the Communication and Care Packages Info

Find out what the camp’s policy is when it comes to communicating with your kids via email, letters and care packages. Are you allowed a certain number of emails or letters? How many care packages are you permitted to send? Are their rules about what you can and can’t send? If you’re allowed to include toys in the care packages, choose things that your kids can enjoy together with the other campers (such as Frisbees and playing cards).

Don’t Hang Around Too Long When You Arrive

When you arrive at camp for the drop-off, do yourself—and your kids—a favor and leave once they’re settled in. Take them to their cabin, help them unpack if necessary and then extract yourself as quickly as possible. Your kids are eager to meet all the other campers, and there’s nothing like a parent who lingers for no reason. Let them start bonding and connecting with their counselors and the other kids.

Don’t Worry – They’re Going To Be Fine

Once you’re back in the car, take a deep breath and then head home. Your kids are going to be fine, and so will you. Trust me.


Tanni Haas, Ph.D., is a contributing writer and a professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

Image courtesy of iStock.