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Getting Ready For Summer Camp

Tips for Parents Sending Kids Off to Camp

Preparation for the start of the summer season is under way at more than 50 Salvation Army camps across the country, and Salvation Army camp directors advise parents to take equal care in preparing their children for the experience. Last year, more than 180,000 people attended Salvation Army summer and day camps – many were urban, underprivileged children experiencing crickets, campfires and an escape from city streets for the first time. Most attended camp with the help of a Salvation Army camp scholarship.

"The Salvation Army has been providing summer camps for more than 100 years and really values what this experience can bring to children," says Ed Covert, camp director for the Salvation Army's Camp Arnold in Eatonville, Wash. "Summer camp opens a whole new world, but parents need to recognize that along with the excitement, children may also be anxious about departing from the familiarity of their daily lives."

Covert has 10 tips for parents sending their child to camp for the first time, and at the top of the list is to make sure the child has had a positive experience spending the night away from home, perhaps at a family member's or friend's house. If possible, Covert also recommends parents discuss their own childhood camping memories and stories with their children.

"Sharing your experiences can build anticipation and excitement in the weeks leading up to camp," says Covert. "These conversations help children ask questions and express any fears they may have before leaving for camp."

Additional tips include marking the first day of camp on the family calendar and, together with your child, marking off each day and spending time talking about what a great experience camp will be. Finally, says Covert, write your child a few letters and mail them several days before departure so the letters arrive on the first day of camp. And be sure to send paper, postcards and stamps so your child can write back and maintain that connection even while you are separated.

The complete list of tips includes the following:

  • Arrange for your child to stay with a grandparent or friend for a night or two. This way, your son or daughter can experience what it is like to sleep somewhere new and different.
  • Make sure your child can manage basic personal hygiene such as brushing teeth, changing clothes and bathing. Bedwetting should not preclude a child from attendance at camp; however, the camp staff needs to be aware of the issue so that appropriate arrangements can be made and to ensure the camper's dignity is protected.
  • During the weeks leading up to camp, take time to share your own camp stories and memories with your child to build excitement and anticipation for camp. If possible, pull out old camp photos or scrapbooks for your kids to look at.
  • Do not schedule a significant family event while your child will be away at camp. No child wants to be abandoned at camp while Mom, Dad and the rest of the family go on a fun family vacation or have a special celebration.
  • Develop a checklist of items needed for camp (or get one from the camp), and work with your child to get everything together. Call the camp if there are items that you cannot secure for your camper. It is not necessary to buy a lot of new gear; most camps will have extra supplies or resources that will ensure that each camper arrives at his or her cabin with all the essentials to have a successful time at camp.
  • Mark the first day of camp on the family calendar. Together with your child, mark each day off and spend time talking about what a great experience it will be.
  • Write your child a couple of letters, and pack the sealed envelopes in their luggage a day or two before they leave for camp. Tell your son or daughter they can open them while they are away at camp. It's also equally important that you write a letter and send it through the mail. "Mail Call" is always a big event at camp, and every child loves to get mail from home.
  • Pack paper, postcards and stamps so that your child can write to you.
  • Encourage your child to have a "backyard sleep out" by pitching a tent in your backyard. This will give your son or daughter the freedom to navigate through their feelings of anxiety, curiosity and excitement within the safety and security of his or her own home. Also consider going to the library and checking out a kid's book about summer camp. Read it together by the light of your flashlight in the tent.
  • When you arrive with your child at camp, make a point of meeting and connecting with the camp staff so your child can see that you are interested in, and trust, the people that will be caring for him.

For more information about the Salvation Army's summer camps, visit www.salvationarmyusa.org.

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