MARTINSVILLE, Ind., May 24, 2023 — Summer is just around the corner, and we know the last thing you want is for summer camp to sneak up on you. It's challenging enough to schedule all the kids' things and remember to buy sunscreen, and the last thing on your mind might be preparing for camp. Don't worry — we've done the work for you, and we've collected the top seven tips from summer camp professionals around the country to make sure your child (and you) has the best summer ever.
1. Find a camp/get to know your camp.
If your child is a first-time camper, or if your family wants to try a new program this year, it can save you a ton of time and stress when you know exactly where to look.
The American Camp Association (ACA)'s Find a Camp tool is a free resource with the most extensive directory of summer and year-round camp programs. Filter your search by your exact wants and needs, and check that the camp is ACA-accredited to ensure the highest quality in health and safety for campers. Moreover, let your child be part of the process! This can help build excitement and find the best fit for your child.
Wondering about camp prices? ACA offers resources around financial aid, camp scholarships, and more.
2. Learn about the staff.
It can be nerve-wracking to hand your child over to strangers for days or weeks at a time.
Get to know the camp directors! Don't be afraid to ask questions such as counselor-to-camper ratios, staff training, hiring practices, and more. Summer camp staff care deeply about your child's safety and happiness — they are professionals whom you can trust. A lot of camps also post video introductions or bios of staff members. Ask your camp director if they have similar resources to help provide familiarity before drop-off.
If possible, schedule a site visit ahead of time to become familiar with the campus. This can also help build excitement, especially for first-time campers.
Doing your homework and getting clear on the camp's operations can help you feel confident in your decision and bring peace of mind. Check out ACA's Parent Resource page for more ideas.
3. Take time to learn the camp's policies and best practices.
Along with understanding staff culture and qualifications, take time to learn the camp's policies, practices, and procedures. This may include technology use, communication with families, dealing with missing home, abuse prevention, communicable disease protocols, and more.
What is the communication policy with parents when a camper needs health care? What is their behavior management policy and how is this shared with the staff? Many camps share this information through a handbook or a family/camper section on their websites.
4. Clearly communicate your child's needs.
Just as you need to know about the camp, the camp needs to learn about your child! Being open and honest about your child's needs creates a better camp experience for everyone. There is a camp for every child, and a child for every camp. Take the time to share quality information (including mental, emotional, and social needs in addition to medical and dietary needs) about your camper. Good camps put this to use to prepare the counseling staff, and the more you share with your camp director, the better prepared they are to meet the unique needs of your child.
Researching, talking with camp directors, and asking other parents for referrals can help you make the best decision for your child.
So, you've chosen a camp. Great! Now it's time to prepare. Has your child had successful day and/or overnight experiences previously? Depending on the camp program, along with your child's needs, it can be helpful to "practice" camp experiences ahead of time to build confidence and excitement. Some ideas may include:
- Practice dressing for swim without help or taking a quick shower
- Practice what it will be like to get on a bus and put on a seat belt
- Practice eating the nutritious parts of lunch first and saving the dessert/snack until the end
- Practice sharing and staying with a group
- Practice a day without the use of your electronic devices
6. Label everything (and know what to bring!).
Despite your best efforts to keep your child's belongings tidy and organized, in a camp setting and among peers, things can quickly get mixed together and go missing. Save yourself, your camper, and the camp staff the headache of figuring out what belongs to whom and get label happy. You'll thank us later.
See if your camp provides an example packing list. This can help you determine what to pack and what to leave at home. Many camps have online stores — getting some gear ahead of time can help the camper feel connected to the community right away.
7. Not everything will be perfect — and that's OK.
Remember the reason for camp: to try new things and make new friends. Camp is a wonderful experience that helps kids build resilience, independence, confidence, life skills, and so much more. It's a classroom without walls where kids can grow and take positive risks in a safe environment. Not everything at camp will be perfect, but remember that the most growth often stems from overcoming challenges.
At the end of the day, providing a camp experience will support your child's overall development. Planning and preparing can be exciting — and for new camp parents, even scary — but know that you're giving them a positive, life-changing opportunity. And when camp does come around, take a deep breath, give yourself a high five, and do some self-care! Rest assured in the knowledge that your kids are developing independence, experiencing the outdoors, relaxing, unplugging, and making friends.
The American Camp Association® (ACA) is a national organization serving the more than 15,000 year-round and summer camps in the US who annually serve 26 million campers. ACA is committed to collaborating with those who believe in quality camp and outdoor experiences for children, youth, and adults. ACA provides advocacy, evidence-based education, and professional development, and is the only independent national accrediting body for the organized camp experience. ACA accreditation provides public evidence of a camp's voluntary commitment to the health, safety, risk management, and overall well-being of campers and staff. For more information, visit ACAcamps.org.
Photo: Outpost Summer Camps, San Diego, CA.