Charting a Course to Summer Camp the First Time


Published:

Last year, my oldest child completed two important milestones: her first year of kindergarten and her first summer of camps. Frankly, planning for summer camps made the transition to school seem like a walk in the park. To help other parents who are new to camp planning, here’s a list of top 10 tips for navigating the path to a successful summer.

1. Find an experienced mom to help you.

Thank goodness for my friend, Ann. Had she not asked what I was doing about camp, it probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind that I needed to plan for summer several months in advance.

Ann started planning in mid-February, although families considering residential camps often start planning even earlier. She had insights into the timing of summer camp registration and firsthand experience with how quickly some camps fill and whether or not other camps would appeal to my daughter.

To get as much inside scoop as possible, first talk with your group of close friends, then approach neighbors and friends at your religious community. Shake the trees if you have to, but find an experienced mom to lend some advice.

2. Send your kid with a friend.

Not only was Ann a knowledgeable source about camps her older child had enjoyed, she also had a daughter the same age as mine. We scheduled the majority of camps so our daughters went to the same locations.

Although a great part of the camp experience is making new friends, for young or easily intimidated kids, knowing someone in the program can ease the transition. For Ann and me, we knew our rising first-graders would have at least one friend at each camp.

3. Mention to the camp that your child’s friend is attending.

It’s not enough to plan with another family to have your kids together at camp. You also have to notify the camp and specifically request that your kids be grouped together. Some camps can be very accommodating about this request; others may be slightly annoyed. Aim for a polite and persistent approach.

4. Consider distances.

Luckily, Ann and I live in the same neighborhood and took turns dropping off and picking up our children. However, car trips ranged from 15 minutes to almost an hour. These drives made for long days for the kids.

For parents, these trips also required more planning to leave work at the necessary time. Other considerations were coordinating to make sure dinner was served before bedtime and that other children had an available parent.

5. Repeat potential favorites.

Although it’s popular to send your child to many camps — going to a different place every week — this requires a new transition every Monday with a new location, new counselors and new fellow campers. Think about your child before you switch camps every week.

If transitions are tough, you may want to keep him at the same camp for two or more weeks before moving on. In addition, some camps offer a discount if you enroll your child for more than a week or two.

6. Realize that your child may not get into a camp he wants.

I was disappointed when I realized I had waited too long to register for a camp, and it filled up. Many popular camps (at certain museums or the planetarium, for example) close before nonmembers have the opportunity to register. It helps to know which ones fill quickly and how to get the best shot at getting a space.

7 Have a backup plan.

Because my daughter didn’t get into that so-fun camp, I found an alternative. But before committing to plan B, I called the first-choice camp and found that an additional group at the same session time opened because there was so much interest for that particular theme. Although I was glad I didn’t have to implement it, I was reassured I had a backup plan.

8. Make a morning checklist.

This may seem compulsive, but make a list of the clothes or supplies you send with your child to camp. Your child is going to lose something.

At one camp, I picked up my daughter and she was not wearing any shoes. “Where are your shoes?” I asked

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“You had shoes on this morning.” Sigh. “Which ones did you wear?”

“I don’t remember.”

After this exchange, my 5-year-old, her friend and I walked into the camp office and hunted down the shoes in a massive lost and found box filled with inexplicable items (a winter coat?) just from the start of that summer.

Make that list so when you go spelunking, you know what you need to find.

9. Realize some camps will be duds.

My daughter was absolutely thrilled about attending a well-known camp. Until she got there. “It’s just not fun,” she reported.

I still made her go, but I realized that despite all our planning, there would be camps my daughter just wouldn’t love.

10. Sell camp, sell fun.

Although a camp may not click with your child, you still have to sell that camp, and any other camp he may attend over the summer.

My daughter complained about one camp being “boring.” She and I talked about what she could do to change her situation.

We looked at additional activities available and made daily goals: Meet one new person today; find one person who will go to your school next year. These interventions helped her speed through the not-so-fun week.

Selling the camp experience was important, but I was also selling the crucial concept of teaching my daughter to create her own fun.

Robin Whitsell is writer and mother of three girls who lives in Chapel Hill.

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June 2019

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500 S. Salisbury St.
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Orange County Main Library
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Sponsor: Orange County Public Library
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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: See website for fees

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500 S. Salisbury St.
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White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
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Cost: $5

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Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
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Cost: Free

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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
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Cost: Free

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IngenuiTea Kombucha Coffee & Tea
514 E Williams St
APEX, NC  27502
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Sponsor: IngenuiTea Brews
Telephone: 919-438-3684
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Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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Cost: Free

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946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Cost: FREE

Where:
Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 919-460-3355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: $9/resident, $11/nonresident

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Bond Park Community Center
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
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Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
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Cost: Free

Where:
N.C. Museum of History
5 E. Edenton St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Cost: Free

Where:
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720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: $5

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Marti Kane
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Parent and child ages 2-5 water plants in the native wildflower gardens. Register online. Choose course #124907.

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join Optimist Aquatic Center as thousands of kids and adults around the world unite for the world's largest swimming lesson. The World's Largest Swimming Lesson will celebrate its 10th...

Cost: Free

Where:
Optimist Aquatic Center
5902 Whittier Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Vacation Bible School includes dinner. Register at wpumc.com/vbs

Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
Website »

More information

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Show Less...

Every year on June 21, we enjoy the most hours of sunlight during the whole year. Discover the science and cultural celebrations behind this special summer day. Make a pretty sun catcher to hang in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Enjoy stories with Amy Godfrey.

Cost: Free

Where:
The Regulator Bookshop
720 Ninth St.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

What do Historic Yates Mill County Park and the woodland faeries have in common? They both love nature! Take a short walk near the millpond to search for evidence of faeries (sightings are not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Enjoy magic, storytelling and origami with Yasu Ishida. Grades K-5.

Cost: Free

Where:
East Regional Library
946 Steeple Square Court
Knightdale, NC  27545
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Pine State Coffee
1614 Automotive Way
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Sponsor: Raleigh Night Market
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Cost: Free

Where:
White Plains United Methodist Church
313 S.E. Maynard Rd.
Cary, NC  27511
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Sponsor: White Plains UMC
Telephone: 919-467-9394
Contact Name: Michele Vansteen
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Cost: Free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
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Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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More information

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Cost: $12/person. Free for ages 2 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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More information

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720 Ninth St.
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: Free

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Duke Homestead State Historic Site
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
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Cost: Free

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The Scrap Exchange
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Cost: See website for fees

Where:
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500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


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Cost: Free

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Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), Free/Child (6 - under)

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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


Telephone: 919-387-5980
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More information

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Cost: $12 advance tickets, $15 at the door. Free for ages 12 and younger

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Bunn, NC  27508
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Sponsor: Vollmer Farm
Telephone: 919-496-3076
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Cost: Free

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