Kids Camp

How to prepare your kid for an overnight camp

You signed your kid up for camp – a summer of bugs, outdoor showers, wet pool towels, hiking through desolate wastelands and eating camp food. What were you thinking?! You were remembering your own time, years ago, when this was fun. Now you want to wrench that kid of yours away from the computer long enough for him to discover there are trees in the world, as well as rocks and rivers and other kids!

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But how to find that perfect camp experience? The first thing to do is see what your child enjoys. Do they like horseback riding? Water skiing? Hiking? Backpacking? Arts and crafts? A Christian environment? Soccer? Basketball? Swimming? Canoeing?

It's OK to ask them about this part. Surprises aren't necessarily a good thing when thrusting the kid into a camp situation from which there is no escape. But if they can't choose, do it for them with a positive slant saying something like, "Let's give this one a try this year, and next year we'll try this other one." You might want to make it a short camp for maybe just a week to see how it goes. Anyone can stand anything for a week.

Ask friends for recommendations or use the Web. Check with the local Better Business Bureau, and see if any complaints have been lodged against the camp. You can also type into your search engine a query about the camp such as: "Has anyone sent their child to Camp Winnie?" See what people are saying about them. The more info you have, the better prepared you are to make a decision about which camp to send your child to.

A good plan here is to find a camp no more than half a day's drive from your house in case you have to go and get the camper. It happens, so be prepared. You may only have to make a short visit to reassure them that you are still alive, or you may have to bring them home. You don't have to tell them that you can come and get them because that might make it too tempting for them to run off. And the first day or so may be traumatic, so have them call you if they must and reassure them that all will be well. Then you call the leaders and tell them your child is worried and upset. See if they can intervene and get them back on track to enjoying themselves.

Scouting offers an excellent program all year around and most troops enjoy at least a week each summer at an organized Boy Scout camp. With their fellow Scouts and skilled leaders, these camps are a great way to get your son out of the house and into the wilderness.

Buy a rolling duffle bag at the local sporting goods store for their stuff, or if they're going to backpack into camp, get a good sturdy backpack. Used equipment shops are a great place to find some bargains. You can also check online for some Boy Scout packing lists. Most camps will have their own lists too, so ask for one before you go shopping. Then use modular packing for all of your child's belongings – one gallon Ziploc bags are the best. Using these, put all the socks into one bag, all the underwear into the next one, all your T-shirts rolled into the next one, and so on. These can be stuffed into the duffle and make it easy to find the article of clothing you need quickly.

Laundry is put into a pillowcase and re-packed into the duffle at the end of the camp. Wet swimsuits and towels can return home packed into a Ziploc bag as well. Use these bags for toiletries too – they're easy to see into and they don't leak. But put the soap in a separate plastic soap container and into its own small Ziploc, so your child's toothbrush doesn't taste like soap.

Other items that make your child's campout a little easier include flip-flops for those trips to the showers and a clothesline and pins to hang up their wet towel and swimsuit – don't let it drip on the bed! And mark absolutely everything with your child's name. It's easier than fighting Freddie over whose towel they have.

Some safety items to consider might be a whistle on a lanyard, flashlight, glowsticks, space blanket and jacket. Other items can be found on most backpacking lists.

Camping opens up a whole new world for your child, and in the end it will be a richly rewarding experience for them. And the stories that they come back with make for wonderful memories down the road – memories that will last a lifetime.

By Cristy Ross