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The dos and don’ts of summer camp

By: Jessica Meszaros


It was American academic and Harvard University president Charles William Eliot who said, “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well-organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.” 

Whether Eliot’s assumption was true or not can be debated but what stands as fact is that: Summer camps have been blending education and recreation for centuries, and the combination remains popular. 

But navigating so many available options can leave parents and campers feeling frazzled. To make sure the summer camp experience is exciting and not exhausting, follow these tips:

Parents, do your homework. While younger campers may benefit from a day camp experience, older kids or teenagers might want to explore camps centered around a specific theme, like sports or art. Parents and campers should talk about what camp experience might be the best fit – in terms of interest, cost and schedule compatibility.

Campers, don’t be afraid to try something new. Camp is ideally suited for experiencing new activities. So try everything once and enjoy the learning process.

If your camper is going to a sleep-away camp, especially if it’s for the very first time, do try to visit the camp beforehand. Take advantage of open house events or set up a private tour so your child can become familiar with the facility and its staff.

Do talk to the camp staff and become familiar with its communication policies. Doing so will help you and your camper know what to expect from the experience, as well as what to bring and what to leave at home.

Campers, do pack light. Focus on packing essentials, like a flashlight, hygiene items and comfortable clothes. When packing newly purchased shoes, make sure they’re broken in first. Camps also provide supply lists in advance so campers can know exactly what supplies to bring. Don’t forget needed medication and first-aid essentials as allowed.

Remember that homesickness is normal. Camp staff members are used to working with campers experiencing anxieties about being away from home. Campers, do work with counselors to talk through apprehension rather than immediately calling home for help. Parents, remember that homesickness usually passes in a day or two. 

Parents, do write positive letters. Letters that focus on the child’s accomplishments and growth can be reaffirming and help boost a camper’s confidence. But don’t promise daily communication. Campers who are well adjusted and managing well at camp can be crippled by feelings of homesickness or anxiety from repeated phone calls from home. 

Parents, do contact the camp if you want an update or have any concerns. The camp staff if there to support the parents just as much as the campers. Camp staff will be happy to provide updates on how your child is adapting to camp and answer any questions you may have.

Parents, don’t offer a pick-up clause. Sending children to camp and saying, “if you don’t like it, I’ll come and pick you up” can prematurely damage the camp experience, as well as a camper’s self-esteem. It can also force parents to break the promise if it’s not followed through.

Campers, don’t forget to meet new people. Going to summer camp with friends or peers from school can be a great opportunity to deepen existing friendships. However, don’t forget to meet new people and form new bonds. 

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