6 Tips for Parents of First-Time Overnight Campers
If your child is anywhere between six and twelve years old, congratulations: they’re at the prime age for attending an overnight summer camp program. If you attended camp yourself as a kid, or have older children who have, you’re probably excited for your youngest child to share this experience. But before you start packing for summer camp and making plans for your newfound free time, remember that first-time campers will need an introduction to what summer camp is, how it works, how to prepare, and what to expect.
Fortunately, preparing your child for this time-honored American tradition can be just as fun and exciting as camp itself. Here are some tips to make the entire process go smoothly and set children up for a successful experience.
How To Prepare Your First-Time Camper for Overnight Summer Camp
Here are just a few ways to get your child ready for their first-ever overnight camp program:
- Practice with sleepovers at friends’ houses. Particularly if your child has never slept away from home before, sleepovers can be a great way to help them get their feet wet. This could take the form of a slumber party or an overnight visit to a friend or relative’s house. Sleepovers can help your child to learn packing skills, try new games and activities, get ready for bed by themselves, adjust to sleeping in new places, and alleviate the anxiety of being away from home.
- Involve your child in the preparation process. Talk to your child about programs in general and look at specific camp websites together. Discuss what kinds of summer camp activities might interest your child most so they can look forward to trying them out. Once you’ve decided on a camp, prepare for it together by shopping for supplies on the summer camp packing list, packing, and meeting other campers. All of this helps kids to understand what to expect.
- Share stories about your own positive camp experiences. Kids (especially before they become teenagers) can be surprisingly eager to follow in the footsteps of parents and older siblings. Sharing some of your fondest memories of camp can spark their imagination and help them feel that they are part of a larger tradition. Also, since you’ve survived overnight camp, they’ll know that they can, too.
- Manage emotional expectations and make a communication plan. It’s great to reminisce happily about camp with your child—but explain that homesickness, anxiety, and other stress responses are normal at first too. This will comfort them, help them grow, and increase their resilience. Find out the kinds of parent-child communication the camp allows while your child is away and make plans with them for how you will contact each other. Don’t, however, promise to whisk them away at the first sign of trouble.
- Explain the camp’s grouping, sleeping, and bathroom arrangements. Find out how your child will be grouped (in terms of age, gender, cabin, etc). Let them know that they will be sharing a cabin and a bathroom with others, especially if they have never shared a bedroom or bathroom with a sibling before. Reassure your child that having company in close quarters means they won’t be lonely, but emphasize the importance of good bunkmate and cabin mate manners and respect for others as well.
- Communicate with camp staff about your child. Be sure to attend orientation day with them so they can familiarize themselves with the campground, meet other campers, and mentally prepare for the upcoming experience. Be honest and forthcoming with camp counselors and staff about any particular challenges your child may have. Allow your child to ask questions and talk to staff about what they’re looking forward to as well as what they may be worried about. This can alleviate a good deal of anxiety up front.
First-Time Campers Are In Good Hands With Surprise Lake Camp
Surprise Lake Camp is a nonprofit organization that provides a home away from home for generations of young people. We believe in the value of community and friendship. Our Jewish values and identity shape our connection to nature. We’re dedicated to helping young people unplug, grow, and develop values, confidence, and skills to last a lifetime, adding to SLC’s storied history as the nation’s longest-running Jewish sleepaway camp.
Take the next step: explore our first-time camper experiences and request more information. Then come for a tour!
When you make a charitable gift to Surprise Lake Camp, you give children life-changing experiences. Partner with us to provide campers confidence, growth, friendships, and Jewish identity. Donate today!