15 Things Summer Camp Directors Wish Parents Knew Before Sending Kids Off

published Jun 5, 2023
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Counselors giving instructions to kids at camp
Credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Kids’ summer camps can be one of the most fun, influential experiences of childhood — from making new friends to learning new games, it’s the cherry on top of the school-free season. Whether you’re anxious about sending them away, or you’re ready to have your well-deserved parent vacation, there are a few things both parents and kids should be aware of before drop-off. Because the more you know before seeing them off, the better. 

We talked to a handful of camp directors and counselors about what they wish parents knew before sending first-timers (and camp veterans) to day camps or sleepaway camps, so you and your children can sleep a little bit easier before the big day comes. 

1. Make sure your kids actually want to go to camp. 

“I think a lot of parents assume that because they had the time of their lives at camp when they were younger, their children will be just like them, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It’s very clear at summer camp which kids were forced to come to camp and which weren’t. So parents should speak to their kids first and find out. Otherwise, their kid won’t have fun and it will just be a waste of money.”  —Christopher Davis, former camp counselor and founder of Camps Insider

2. Being homesick isn’t a bad thing.

“How great is it that kids have wonderful things to miss — comfy beds, fluffy dogs, and you! Camp staff are trained to support kids through missing home.” —Sterling Leija, VP of operations, Roundup River Ranch

3. Pack essentials, but avoid overpacking.

“While it’s important to pack necessary items, keep in mind that camp accommodations may have limited storage space. Packing light helps ensure a comfortable camp experience.” —Dillon Morrison, former summer camp director and co-founder of Outlighter

4. Trust our communication channels.

“We understand that parents want to stay informed, but bombarding us with constant calls and emails can hinder our ability to focus on providing a great camp experience. We have designated communication times or platforms for updates.” —Dillon Morrison, former summer camp director and co-founder of Outlighter

5. Practice makes perfect.

“Parents should prepare their child for the camp experience by discussing expectations and practicing independence skills such as packing their own bags and making their own bed.” —David Mcneil, Florida YMCA Camps employee and licensed jeweler

6. It’s OK to give your kids a little space.

“While each camp has separate rules regarding phone calls, many summer camps encourage some distance from children in terms of daily communication. What I wish parents knew was that keeping some distance and not calling kids every day while at camp is a good way to help them develop their independence and resilience skills.”  —Mark Evans, summer camp consultant at Summer Camp Hub

Credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

7. Your child might not be ready for camp — just yet.

“If the camp is longer than a week, and the child is under 12, they might not be ready. Think about how long the child has been away from you before. If this will be the longest they have been away from you, take steps to be ready, such as extended sleepovers with grandparents or cousins, first.” —Owen Johnson, writer at Gorp and longtime camp counselor

8. Try to find the best kind of camp for your child.

“There are some kids out there who want to do all the fun activities that camp offers, but at the end of the day want to come back home, or those who struggle with homesickness. In this case, day camps are much better suited than overnight camps, resulting in a much better experience for them. Similarly, I also saw parents send kids to a STEM camp when the kids would have preferred a traditional camp experience, and vice versa. Parents should talk to their kids about their interests and what they want to do for the summer before simply choosing one for them.”  —Christopher Davis, former camp counselor and founder of Camps Insider

9. Label everything.

“From clothes to water bottles, labeling your child’s belongings greatly increases the chances of lost items being returned promptly.” —Dillon Morrison, former summer camp director and co-founder of Outlighter

10. Parents can be nervous too, but try not to show it.

“If this is the first time sending your child to camp, it’s completely normal for you to feel uneasy or anxious. However, it is really important for your child to not pick up on your anxiety. If your child feels that you are nervous, they may also worry about you as well as about themselves. Instead, try to communicate your excitement for them and your trust in the camp. In general, many parents tell us that once they see photos of their child having fun (most camps post photos of what’s happening at camp), then they can relax and have fun, too. This can take a few days for parents, so go easy on yourself.” —Sarah Carter, director, Rockbrook Camp for Girls

11. If your child has a behavioral issue, please disclose it to the camp leader.  

“Camp staff are usually trained on how to deal with them, and it is very helpful to camp staff to be prepared with this knowledge. Some parents, perhaps for privacy reasons, don’t disclose, and that puts camp staff in an awkward spot.” —Owen Johnson, writer at Gorp and longtime camp counselor

12. Be careful what you write to them in letters.

“One thing parents should know about when writing letters is that they should give updates about the family without making it seem like the kids are missing out on too much. Otherwise, this is a great way to increase their homesickness.” —Mark Evans, summer camp consultant at Summer Camp Hub

13. Make sure your child knows what they will be doing at camp.  

“I’ve seen situations where the parents know what the camp is all about, but the child shows up and it’s different than they expected. The child deserves to know what the activities are, and what the days will be like before they go.” —Owen Johnson, writer at Gorp and longtime camp counselor

14. Don’t tell them about news or disturbing current events — especially if a pet is dying.

“We all need a break from the news cycle. Camp is your child’s opportunity to fully relax and forget about the hustle and bustle of daily life. They have worked hard in school all year and they deserve it. They can’t do anything about it, and troubling news of the outside world can be mostly a worry for them.”  —Sarah Carter, director, Rockbrook Camp for Girls

15. Don’t send your kids to camp to address behavioral issues.

“Some parents send their kids to camp in hopes to improve their behavior. Camps are where you learn, not where you work through issues.” —Owen Johnson, writer at Gorp and longtime camp counselor

Editor’s note: While not all camps are well-suited to kids with disabilities, or behavioral or emotional issues, there are plenty of care or camp options your child will enjoy. Find the perfect camp for your child with special needs here, or other behavioral challenges here and here.

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