How to Prepare Your Kids for Their First Summer Camp Experience

Here are a couple of tips for how to prepare your kids for their first summer camp experience.

Your kids are going on their first summer camp outing and parents have all these fears running through their minds. They also have to get a list together of all the items their children will need for camp. In addition, they wonder if their children are going to feel some separation anxiety for the first time of being away at camp. The best thing parents can do is sit down and have a discussion with their children about going on their first camping trip. This is how parents find out if their children have any fears about going to camp. If their children are showing any anxiety about going to camp and feeling separation anxiety, then have an open discussion with your kids. Tell your children that they can call you if need be and if worst comes to worst, you will be happy to come and pick them up from camp.

Summer camp is becoming very popular and over 14 million kids go camping every year. There are over 14,000 day and resident camps in the United States. Parents have many options these days, from camps for special needs kids, camps that focus on computers, acting, and hockey. There is also traditional cabin camping in the woods as well too, so before you jump into signing your child up, first decide if your child is ready or even interested. Most kids start going to resident camp when they aged 7 or 8. Day camp starts kids at age 3. If you’re considering resident camp, think about how your child does when they spend the night away from home with their friends or family members. Find out if your kids are comfortable when they spend the night away from home and if they enjoyed the experience.

Separation Anxiety

When children have problems separating from their parents in ordinary settings, this could be an issue for the future. Children also should be able to have a small variety of basic skills to help them cope without their parents doing the little things like feeding them or cutting their food. Kids should know how to do this by a certain age. So if your child seems apprehensive about camp, let it go for another year. Just remember to make sure that you have given them a full explanation of what camp is all about and not to let their friends influence their decisions.

Choosing a Camp

When parents have decided that their kids are ready to go camping, look for camps that are accredited. A camp must meet more than 300 standards in regards to health and safety, including the quality of the program to be accredited. There is a Web site called the ACA that has all camps that are accredited in the nation. Parents can search by region, cost, or other information that is important to them. There are also camp fairs that are held around the country so parents can get an all-around view of all of the options the camp has to offer and also talk directly with the staff from each of the camps they visit.

Overnight or Day Camp

Resident camp runs anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks and offers many varieties of activities that are supervised by camp counselors. Day camp is good for kids who are ready or interested in sleeping overnight at camp. Day camp has similar varieties of activities like overnight camp. Day camp also offers transportation to and from the site.

Types of Camp

There are specialty camps that are designed to focus on certain themes or activities like sports or the arts. The traditional camp provides the kids with a more general camping experience which might include a combination of both arts and crafts, sports and outdoor fun.

Special Needs Camp

These are the kind of camps that are designed for kids with special needs which include, mental and physical disabilities. Choose the right camp based on the needs of your child, their interests and the type of personality they have. Some camps are more competitive, while others are more cooperative. Is your child the type that does best when their environment is structured? Then look for a camp with a tightly structured environment, rather than a lax environment. What does your child want? Are they interested in learning new skills and new activities or are they more interested in learning to become for skills and learn more about one of their favorite interests? Traditional camp is great for that. If you decide on a camp, ask your child if they might consider asking their best friend to join them. Then talk to the parents, especially if this is the first time for them to be away on a camping trip.

The Decision

When parents have chosen the camps they are interested in, then it’s time for them to talk to the Director of each camp they are interested in. Ask questions and some questions should be the educational background and career background of the director. Find out if the camp is accredited, find out what the mission statement or philosophy is, what is the rate of return of both campers and counselors is each year? What kind of program do the counselors go through for training? How many campers per counselor? Inquire what the medical and safety procedures are and this is very important if the camp isn’t accredited. In addition, ask if there are any parents you can talk to whose kids have been campers there before.

The last item on your list is to take a day and visit the camp with your child and trust your gut feelings. You as parents have to be comfortable entrusting the care of your child into the hands of the camp directors and counselors.


Now that you have chosen a camp, it’s time to prepare because your kid is going to be gone for over 24 hours away from home. They are going to make new friends and have a new routine. Talk to your child about their strengths and how well they did in the last year and how much confidence they gained by learning about new things. You can explain to them that camp is a building process and they are adding new skills to what they already know so they can deal with situations better. You won’t be there so they can also learn to get past any social awkwardness. Don’t tell your child how much you will miss them because parents have the same separation anxiety as their children and you don’t want to feed into that. This only makes the situation worse, so tell them how excited you are that they have this opportunity to go camping and meet new friends and learn about nature.

The Packing List

Make sure you read and follow the packing list and send soap, shampoo, laundry soap, and read up on the electronics rules. If camp allows it, then let them take their favorite electronics along. Don’t forget anything on the list or your child might not be able to participate in an important activity. Don’t send items that are not allowed because you are sending the wrong signal to your child. If you send a forbidden item and tell them to hide it and they are not supposed to have it, you are teaching them that they don’t have to follow the rules. This only will cause more problems with staff, and other campers. This will just make it harder for your child to fit into the camp.

The Physical

Time flies very fast so don’t delay if your child needs a physical for camp. Doctor appointments fill up quickly, so make an appointment and get the medical forms signed as soon as possible and mail them to the right people at camp. Some camps want these releases hand-delivered on the day your child arrives at camp so keep this information in a folder and shop for everything they need early.

Label Their Stuff

Parents make sure you label everything with your child’s name. Kids are not organized in tents and they will lose their belongings fast if they don’t have their names on it. Once the visiting day comes and their stuff lays in a big heap, if it’s not labeled they won’t know what is there’s. Lost and found is too hard and takes up too much time to look for things. If your child has their things labeled, they have no worries. Pace yourself and take some time, even if it takes a few days and label their clothes or order labels with their names on it for clothes, bedding, and towels. You can iron on the labels or sew them on. There is always permanent marker as well so make sure you print their names so people can read them.

Camping is going to be a great experience for your whole family. Just remember your child is going to be a bit homesick the first time away from home and that’s normal. This is why it’s important to talk about camping before they go and let them know that it’s ok to feel emotional about leaving home and you know they can handle it. The staff is always there to help and make sure your child is safe. Make sure your worries don’t attach to your child and make them more nervous than they already are. Give them a big hug and rest assured that the camp director will call you in case of an emergency.