Getting ready for your child's first summer camp experience means having real conversations about what to expect.">

10 Conversations to Have With Your Child Before Summer Camp


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Going away to summer camp for the first time is a rite of passage for your child and you. Getting ready for this adventure together means having real conversations about what to expect.

1. Choosing a destination

Start the camp conversation with your child before choosing a camp. Talk to him about what type of camp experience he wants and is ready for. Katie Johnson, executive director for the Southeast field office of the American Camp Association, suggests asking children what camp activities they most look forward to, then using this as a guide when looking at possible camps.

She says parents should also respect their children's feelings about readiness for overnight camp. Overnight camps often offer mini-sessions to help children step into a full sleep-away experience.

If children are interested in overnight camp but are nervous, consider signing up for the same camp session as close friends, suggests Jen de Ridder, the director for the YMCA Camp Hanes in King. "Going to camp with a friend can be a real confidence booster, especially for the first time," she says.

Research possible camps and narrow your choices down to two or three, says Robert Danos, assistant director for Camp Mondamin in Tuxedo. Then, let your child make the final choice. "That can work well for a child who needs to 'buy in' to the idea," he says.

2. Getting ready for fun

Once you choose a camp and register, prepare your child for the experience by stoking the excitement. Build confidence by focusing on the fun.

"Talk about the friends they will make, the skills they will develop, and even share some of your own positive camp experiences," says Brian Hollingsworth, director of Oak Hill in Oxford.

Hollingsworth cautions parents to pace themselves. "You don't want to overload them with information or too many expectations," he says. "Just keep the topic fresh and alive over time."

3. Learning routines

Review handbooks and other information about day-to-day life at camp, then share it with your child. Johnson suggests discussing how the camp routine will differ from home. "Gradually introduce this information during daily routines," she says.

Explain tasks such as making beds, packing trunks and tidying up, and how all of these things are important in a shared space. Also discuss bathroom procedures, such as what items your child should take to the bathhouse, and what to do if she needs to go to the bathroom at night.

Meals at camp are often served family style with everyone sitting around the table and pitching in to clean up. During meals at home, prepare kids for camp dining by emphasizing healthy food choices, table manners and cleaning up after oneself.

4.  Medicating appropriately

If your child takes daily medication, discuss this with the camp director and staff in advance, and prepare your child for the camp's medication procedure. Also find out what your child should do if he or she is not feeling well.

5.  Turning out the lights

Once the flurry of daytime activities ends and the fire dies down, "lights out" can be the most difficult time for some children. Visit the camp beforehand to familiarize your child with the sleeping quarters. Also give your child strategies for falling asleep, such as relaxing by deep breathing or visualizing himself in a favorite spot.

Many city children go to camp unprepared for the total darkness without streetlights. Allay fears by buying a special camp flashlight and practice using it in the dark. Also prepare your child for the symphony of insect sounds he will hear during a country night.

6. Making friends

Give children behavioral guidelines about how they should treat others and befriend camp mates. "Relationships are the heart of every camp experience," Hollingsworth says.

He also advises talking with children about the strengths and abilities they bring to the group. Their actions, gifts and talents can enrich the camp experience for everyone, Hollingsworth says.

Parents should prepare children for the diversity they are likely to experience at camp. "They will need to learn to get along with a wide variety of people," de Ridder says. Teach them to make new friends by asking about others' interests and being a good listener. Camp friendships often last a lifetime.

7. Enjoying the great outdoors

Much of summer camp fun involves being outside. Teach your child to protect herself from the elements.

Sunscreen is a must. Come up with a plan for when and how to apply it. Your child will want to ask a friend or counselor to help cover unreachable spots. Some children, especially boys, object to having others touch them to apply sunscreen. If this will be a problem for your child, send spray sunscreen, which is worth the extra expense to prevent a painful burn.

Also make sure children have basic outdoor training. Point out or show pictures of poisonous plants such as poison ivy and poison oak, and share the rhyme, "Leaves of three, let it be." Teach your child to stay with the group to avoid getting lost on outings.

8. Pining for home

Most children who go away to camp feel homesick at some point.  Don't dwell on it, but let your child know what homesickness feels like. Explain that he may feel lonely or even have a stomachache. Let him know this is normal. Reassure him that as he gets involved in camp activities, these feelings will pass. "That just means you love your family and love your life," de Ridder says.

Find out how the camp handles homesickness. Once you know the procedure, tell your child what to do if these feelings become a problem.

Danos warns parents not to give their child an "out'' after some artificial number of days if he is still missing home. "It is key for parents to let their child know that they are committed to the full session," he says.

9. Checking in

Promise to write to your child at camp and follow through, but don't promise more communication than the camp allows. De Ridder says some parents have trouble accepting not being able to communicate with their children more. They may send cellphones or expect daily email communication. She believes parents should embrace the independence fostered by the camp experience and not create unrealistic expectations for their child.

"Tell your child how excited you are about all the fun they will have and that you want to hear all about it when they get home," she says.

10.  Sharing feelings

Listen to what your child has to say about her summer camp hopes and fears. Encourage excitement and talk through concerns. Let your camper personally email or call camp directors with any questions, which encourages her to take responsibility for her camp experience, Danos suggests. Attend camp tours and open houses. Doing so gives you both a better context to discuss the upcoming camp experience.

"Visiting ahead of time allows children to see the cabins and learn where the bath house is," Johnson says. "That way parents and children have a visual."

Talking to your child about going away to camp will help prepare you as well. Parents often have mixed feelings about their children leaving the nest. Emphasize the positive to your child and know that you are giving him a wonderful experience full of fun, new friends and opportunities to learn self-reliance.

Jan Wharton is a freelance writer and mother of three from Winston-Salem. For more information, visit janwharton.com.

To find lots of camp options, visit our Camp Directories.

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November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Celebrate the wonderful world of exotic animals and reptiles. Enjoy live specimens, presentations, raffles, vendors and much more. Purchase tickets online.  

Cost: $12 ages 13 and older, $5 ages 5-12.

Where:
N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

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Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

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Kicks off the holiday season with local art, music, food, and family activities at various locations in Durham’s historic downtown district. Presented by the Durham Arts Council with support...

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
Telephone: 919-560-2719
Contact Name: Susan Tierney
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Celebrate the natural world and where favorite Thanksgiving foods come from. Make a craft. All ages with adult. Register online.

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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Cost: $1/person

Where:
Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Search for salamanders, owls and more. Ages 10-13. Register online.

Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Park West Village hosts Winter Wonderland in the District. This year’s event will take place the weekend of November 17th. Take the family to enjoy train rides, magical winter lights, live...

Cost: Free; $5 donation for sledding

Where:
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3400 Village Market Place
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Contact Name: Conner Dixon
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Cost: See website for fees

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Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex
4601 Trinity Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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Make crafts celebrating turkeys. All ages with adult. Meet at the Cardinal Shelter. Registration not required. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Learn what it was like to be a kid at the first Thanksgiving. Play games and make a food collage. Choose either the 10:30-noon and 2-3:30 p.m. session. Ages 7 and older. Register online.

Cost: $6/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

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New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
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Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Listen for the sound of silver bells and climb aboard in your pajamas for a first-class journey on the Polar Express. Come early to meet Santa and enjoy kid-friendly activities and a traditional...

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Athletes improve their flexibility, balance, joint mobility, as well as body and breath awareness. Special attention will be paid to core strength and posture and its importance in performance and...

Cost: Call for fees

Where:
Little Guru Kids Yoga and Creative Arts
215 Glenwood Avenue, Suite A
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Little Guru Kids Yoga
Telephone: 919-345-5873
Contact Name: Jen Bluestone
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Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

Show More...
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Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Children ages 18 months-4 years and their parents enjoy free creative movement and music classes. The creative movement class focuses on the development of gross motor skills and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
Website »

More information

A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
Website »

More information

Read the story by Karma Wilson and make a Thanksgiving-themed craft. All ages. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
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123 Vivian St.
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View map »


Website »

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Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Fit & Able Productions presents the Turkey Chase trail festival at Umstead Park. Take part in a 5K, 10K or 20K. After the race, enjoy fruit, brownies and other...

Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

The Raleigh Boychoir makes an appearance before its big Christmas concert.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Take a 30-minute tour to view the main power drive and milling machinery. Tickets available inside the park's visitor center. Online registration encouraged.

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Explore the historic nature of Leigh Farm Park with a friendly guide. Venture inside the historic farmhouse while being captivated by tales about life at Leigh Farm throughout the years.

Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Show Less...
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