Boys and girls who feel part of the decision to attend camp are happy during camp. It’s as simple as that. Their sense of agency or “being in control” is greatest when they get to choose what camp to attend, when in the summer to go and how long to stay. Stated differently, young people who feel forced to go to camp are more likely to feel homesick. Gulp.
Of course, most parents don’t force their children to attend camp, but many parents do overlook the value of including their son or daughter in all of the big and small decisions made after registration is complete. So now that you’re enrolled at camp, here’s a list of ways to include your son or daughter in the pre-arrival process:
- Have your child help complete the camp’s health form. They may not know the dates of their immunizations, but they can certainly print their name, address, and phone number at the top of the form. Explain what other information is included on the health form and how the form is used at camp. Review any allergies or illnesses that need attention at camp, especially those in which the child collaborates in care, such as asthma and diabetes.
- Have your child assemble your correspondence kit. Pack a zipped freezer bag with pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes, paper, and pens. This activity is even more fun when you pick the addresses of letter recipients together. Have grandparents contributed to camp tuition this year? Be sure to address a couple letters to them as well. Packing stickers to decorate envelopes at camp will increase positive anticipation about this new way to keep in touch.
- Call the camp director together and request the names and numbers of a few returning camper families who live close to you. Only a few camps set up formal pen pals or “big sibs” for new campers, but most other camps are happy to informally link new and returning campers. Involving your son or daughter in making that first social connection at camp is a powerful way to promote positive adjustment.
- Shop together. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, but it should be a shared activity. Many well-intentioned parents have taken the camp’s packing list and completed purchases without the child’s ever knowing. Some moms and dads even pack their child’s trunk for them! This misguided generosity takes away from boys’ and girls’ sense of agency and puts them at greater risk for intense homesickness. Here are my suggestions:
- Sit down with your son or daughter and review the camp’s packing list. (What? No packing list? Download it from the camp’s website or request it as an e-mail attachment from the camp. Every high-quality camp publishes a packing or equipment list.)
- Together, check the items that you already have. Remember, camp is not the place for monogrammed towels and heirloom sweaters. Everything you decide to pack should be appropriate for a rugged outdoor setting, no matter where the camp is situated.
- Highlight the recommended items that you don’t have. Find an online vendor or local store where you can purchase these items and set a date for shopping together. Most packing lists don’t include toiletries, so add things like deodorant, toothpaste, bug repellent lotion (not flammable spray), and (for young ladies) tampons or pads. Intense physical activity and prolonged wearing of damp bathing suits can cause chafing and itching. Therefore, I recommend packing Gold Bond Powder or its generic equivalent.
- Shop for all your needed items together. Something as simple as picking out the color of the new toothbrush will give your son or daughter a healthy sense of agency over the camp experience. Enjoy this co-shopping experience and share your positive expectations for camp. (A little nervous about your child being away? That’s normal. But share those feelings with another adult.)
- Purchase and pack in the recommended container. There are many choices of footlockers, pop-up soft trunks, duffle bags, and backpacks. This might be your most fun co-shopping experience. Stay within your budget, of course, but let your child choose the color, style, and size of packing container.
- Label it all. Together, you’ve gathered everything you need for a great summer at camp. Want to be sure it all comes home? Hit it with a laundry marker or an iron-on name label or a waterproof adhesive label. It’s easy to lose things at camp, but if you want it back, it’s got to have your name on it.
- Pack together. I recommend you affix the camp’s packing list-on which you’ve handwritten any other gear you’re packing, to the inside of your son or daughter’s footlocker, trunk, or duffle. (Remember, she’ll be packing on her own on closing day!) Now is the time to provide guidance on what goes where, but let your child make the final choices. A great packing tip my friend Jon taught me: Roll your clothes and stack them like pencils in a can. That way, you can see what you’ve got without moving things around.
- Did you remember to pack a laundry bag? Most of this gear is going to get pretty nasty, so it’s good to separate dirty from clean so there’s something fresh to wear on the way home.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber