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The Night Before

Preparing for a stress-free, exciting first day of camp

leaving for campBy SHANNON IGNEY

The countdown to camp is officially almost over. Excited kids, and parents, anxiously anticipate the beginning of a memorable and fun-filled summer experience.  But before backing the minivan out of the driveway, experts suggest a few final tips might be in order to ease the arrival experience.

Myra Pravda, RN, MSN, author of “Off to Camp!,” a book to introduce first-time campers to overnight adventures, suggests that children should be involved in the packing process.

“When it comes time to pack for camp, let the kids do the work,” Pravda suggests on her website, www.offtocamp.com.

Most camps, both day and overnight, provide families with a packing list. The list will detail the must-have items like soap, shampoo, bug spray, etc. as well as the prohibited items, such as cellphones, electronic games and laptops to name a few. Pravda and others say it is essential to follow the list, especially when it comes to contraband.

packing for camp“By encouraging your children to sneak in forbidden items, you’re sending the message that they are somehow special and rules don’t apply to them,” explained Ann Sheets, past president of the American Camp Association. “This will cause problems with the staff and with fellow campers, which won’t help your child settle in.”

Once a family is familiar with the suggested packing list, Pravda tells campers to pack old clothes only; camp activities take place in the great outdoors after all. The same advice holds true for shoes.

“Camp is not the place to “break in” a new pair of shoes,” she warned.

Another tip camp experts share is to label everything with a permanent marker. In most cases, campers share cabins or tents and belongings tend to get tossed around aimlessly. It also is a good idea to label shower supplies and toiletries. In fact, it is best to put all shower supplies in a plastic, waterproof carry case and label it as well.

Medications require special care. Put them in a sealed, waterproof bag with your child’s name and date of birth written on the front. And, of course, all medications should be in the original prescription bottles with dosing instructions and personal information. Pravda strongly suggests that all medications be stored in the nurse’s station rather than with the camper – a suggestion that also is a common camp requirement. This regulation ensures both child safety and the effectiveness of the medication, as the nurse’s station is temperature controlled, whereas most cabins are not.

Other items to consider packing include stationary sets [pre-addressed for younger campers], pens and postage. Packing these essentials helps to encourage letter writing for both the camper and the other family members. Sending letters back and forth can ease homesickness as well as serve as an account of the experience to reflect upon at a later date.

Additionally, it is a good idea to pack books, magazines, a family picture or two and a personal item, like a teddy bear or favorite pillow. These items will provide the camper some comfort during down time. If allowed, Pravda suggests packing a disposable camera for your child to document the experience and create tangible keepsakes.

Once the duffel bag is packed and the car is loaded and ready to depart, nerves have a way of creeping in. But don’t worry – homesickness is fairly common. Missing home, parents, pets or friends is a normal part of the experience for new and return campers alike. To settle such anxiety, Pravda gives parents a few tips to redirect the situation.

“If you speak openly about it with your child and let them know this is a normal feeling to have, your child will experience these feelings with less anxiety and more understanding,” she advised.

Pravda also suggests role-playing a few different  scenarios that might be causing worry for the child.

“Problem solve with your child by using ‘what if’ situations to prepare for unexpected events, such as: ‘What if you don’t get along with another camper? What if you don’t feel well?’ Let your child brainstorm for solutions and make sure they know and understand the chain of command at camp for handling problems.”

Lastly, Pravda tells families to sit down and view the camp’s website one last time together. Seeing pictures of the camp, its cabins, lakes, mess hall and counselors, will give campers and parents visual cues as to what the experience will be like – and help to get wary campers excited all over again.

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