Preparing for your kids’ first time away at camp

The first time away from home can be emotional for a child. The best thing you can do as a parent is to set the groundwork for an enjoyable, safe, and productive camp experience by preparing ahead of time.

Camp can be an essential component of childhood development. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), “when children make new friends, explore the world around them, and learn that ‘I can’ is much more powerful than ‘I can’t,’ … children learn real life skills, develop self-esteem, and gain a sense of independence and community.”

However, fear of the unknown can put a damper on your first-timers’ enthusiasm. Here are a few things you can do to calm their anxieties.

Plan ahead.

First, choose an age- and interest-appropriate camp. For children under age 9 (who are usually too young to sleep over), you’ll likely want to send them to day camp. Camps designed for slightly older children can range from a three-day to one-week duration. There are also a variety of specialized camps, such as adventure or sports camps for high schoolers, in addition to camps for special-needs children of all ages.

Include your children in the process of choosing the right camp. Look together online, talk to other parents, and even visit in person before you sign up. Get a suggested packing list. Ask ahead of time about the camp’s safety policies and how they handle emergencies or sickness — even homesickness. Most importantly, make sure the camp staff is clear about any allergies or medications concerning your children.

Finally, make sure you’ve completed all camp forms and that your children have received all required physicals, vaccinations, and medication refills.

Preparing to leave.

A great way to ramp up your first-timers’ enthusiasm is to include them in creating their packing list and let them help pack. Teach them how to use sunscreen and insect repellent and how important it is to stay hydrated. Go over camp safety procedures more than once.

Separation anxiety.

Leaving home for the first time can be hard on both the child and the parent. That’s why it’s helpful to spend plenty of time talking about the experience ahead of time. Pack a reminder from home, such as a stuffed animal. Let them know you’ll check in on them once or twice, but don’t promise to call them everyday.

Remember that camp is the perfect opportunity to foster independence and maturity, so focus on the positives of what the experience will bring and encourage their self-reliance.

The ACA’s website offers an abundance of information and guidance, including why ACA-Accreditation is important, how to choose a camp, suggested packing lists, and a parent blog. Visit

Author of this Article

Kathryn Johnston, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist and located at Riley Physicians Pediatrics – Methodist Medical Plaza South, 8820 S. Meridian Street, Suite 125, in Indianapolis. She can be reached by calling the office at 317.865.6600.

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