How to Prepare Your Child For Their First Time at Summer Camp

So you’ve decided to send your child away to sleepaway camp for their first time this summer, but you’re starting to worry that you haven’t prepared them for every possibility they might encounter while away from you for an entire week… Not to worry first-time camper parents, you’re not alone! Follow these simple steps to make sure your child is prepared to spend their first week away at Clearwater Forest…

1. Make Sure Your Child is Ready for Camp

If you haven’t already, check out this article to be sure your child is ready for camp before you register them:  How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Camp

2. Do a Test Run

If your child has never spent time away from home before, try out a sleepover at a friend’s or relative’s house.  If they go to Grandma’s house every week, try a sleepover at Auntie’s house instead.  Having a sleepover in an unfamiliar location will better prepare them for being away from home in a brand new location for a week.

Clearwater Forest Campers

3. Practice Personal Hygiene

Come up with a morning and evening personal hygiene routine with your child and have them practice “getting ready” all by themselves for a week.  For example, in the mornings have them brush their teeth and hair, and pick out their own clothes. In the evenings, have them shower, wash their own hair, and brush and floss their teeth.  See if they can work up to completing the entire routine without any prompts from you.  It’s ok if they still need a little reminder to shower everyday while at camp (most discovery campers need that every once in a while), but at least you know your child will be taking care of themselves!

4. Go Shopping

Help encourage your child’s excitement about camp by going shopping together for any items on the packing list you may need.  Things like toothpaste and a new flashlight won’t cost much, but it will be fun for your future camper to collect these items in anticipation of the upcoming adventure.

5. Packing

Have your child help you pack their camp bag for them.  Remember they won’t have much space for their things, so pack light and label everything with their name.  Show them where all their items are located in their bag so they don’t miss anything while they are on their own.  The last thing you want is your camper to go without underwear for a week because they couldn’t find any in their suitcase!

6. Fill Out the Health Form with Accuracy and Detail

Accurate information on the health form will ensure your child is getting the attention and care they need for anything from minor sickness to daily medications.  Don’t leave out important details about your child such as occasionally wetting the bed, dealing with ADHD, or getting over a recent divorce or loss in the family.  These details are important for camp staff to know how to manage your child while he/she is in their care.  If you are especially worried about something in particular, please contact our Program Director to work out a plan for how to deal with this issue if it arises while your child is at camp.
Email our Program Director Cassie: program@clearwaterforest.org

7. Set Expectations

Talk with your child about what they can expect during their week at Clearwater Forest.  Walk them through the daily schedule, talk to them about meal time and healthy food choices, about listening to counselors and following directions, and make sure they understand the basics about staying in a cabin with bunkmates.  They more they understand beforehand, the less overwhelming their first day will be. Use our Parent’s Guide to Camp to get a better idea of what to expect.

8. Ask if they have questions

Going along with setting your child’s expectations about camp, help them answer any questions they have about camp before they arrive on their first day.  If your child comes up with questions that you don’t know the answer to, check out our FAQ page, or feel free to contact the office.  We are happy to answer any questions you or your child may have about camp!
Office: (218) 678-2325
office@clearwaterforest.org

9. Teach Your Child to Ask for Help

This may seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes new campers can feel embarrassed or too shy to ask for help.  Have a conversation with your child about this before they head off to camp and encourage them to always go to their counsellor for help no matter how embarrassed or shy they may feel.  When your new camper meets their counselor on their first day, remind them again with encouragement from their counselor that they can ask for help with anything they may need.

10. Talk about Homesickness

This one can be tricky, but it’s important for all parents to talk to their campers about homesickness as it can be extremely common among new or young campers.  Let your child know that it’s ok to feel homesick, but that those feelings will eventually go away once they realize how much fun they are having.  It is important to remember that it may take a day or 2 for new campers to adjust, but that’s ok and their counselors are there to help them through the transition.  It is a good idea to come up with strategies to cope with homesickness, however the worst thing you can do is tell your child “if you get homesick, have them call me and I will come pick you up”.  While this may seem reasonable and soothing in the moment, this ensures your child will not make an effort to turn things around if they do become homesick.  When it comes to a homesick camper, less is more from the parents.  Leave it to the counselors who are trained in dealing with such issues to help your child adjust.

11. Come Up With Strategies for Making Friends

If you or your child is worried about making friends at camp, talk with them about different strategies for making new friends.  Come up with some easy conversation topics they can use with their cabinmates, pack their favorite vacation t-shirt to use as a conversation starter, or pack things like magazines or books to share with others.

12. Clean Drop Off

When it comes time to say goodbye to your new camper on their first day, it is extremely important for parents to make a clean getaway.  No, I am not suggesting you sneak out when your child isn’t looking.  When you say your goodbyes, show your child you have confidence in their independence by letting them go without a fuss.  This means no teary farewells… it is perfectly normal for you to feel sadness when saying goodbye to your child, but put on a brave face for them and save your tears for the car ride home.  Remember the benefits your child will be gaining from their summer camp experience and know that if they sense hesitation from your end, it will exacerbate their own insecurities or unease.

13. Don’t Panic

Once all is said and done, you’ve driven across the state to drop your child off with their counselor and new cabinmates, said your goodbyes, and driven off into the sunset, now what??  Relax!  This is your week to focus on yourself, reflect on your parenting, take some time with your spouse, and do whatever it is you want to do while your child(ren) are out of the house!  Try not to watch social media too carefully to judge whether or not you see your child in enough photos having fun, and trust in Clearwater and our amazing staff that we’ve got it covered and will notify you if there are any serious concerns.  Finally, don’t forget to enjoy your week alone!

Clearwater Forest Camp & Retreat Center