Charting a Course to Summer Camp the First Time

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.

Categories: Camps, Day Camps, Early Education, For You, Home, Overnight Camps, SK Activities, Style, Things To Do, Track-out Camps, Work-Life