Summer camp season is right around the corner. You want your kids to be occupied and entertained, but above all, you want them to be safe. How can you ensure they’ll stay safe at summer camp, when you’re not there to keep a close eye? Here are some tips from Camp Stevens, which has been offering week-long summer camps in in southern California for 62 years:
- Choose the right camp. Look for a camp that’s ACA Accredited. ACA Accreditation means they’re already meeting some pretty stringent standards for safety (over 300 of them) including having a registered nurse on-site, following essential pool safety rules, and maintaining a safe staff to camper ratio.
Tip: When talking ratios, make sure to check if the ratio numbers the camp is providing is program staff to camper, or if it includes everyone on-site. A camp might have a huge number of employees, but does the maintenance team count as someone who’s looking after your child?
- Consider your camper’s needs.Does your child take medication regularly? Have a food allergy? Has there been a major change in their life recently (like a death in the family, or a divorce)? The right camp will work with you to make sure these things don’t get in the way of your child’s experience: But they have to know about them first! Be upfront and transparent with the camp’s staff about your child’s needs so they can prepare. And if the camp isn’t equipped to address your camper’s needs, they’ll probably be able to refer you to a camp that can.
Tip: Summer camp can be a “break” for your child from the rigidity of the school year, but if your child does better emotionally or socially when on medication, it’s probably a good idea for them to stay on it even at summer camp.
- Talk to the camp director. Before your child’s session, give the camp a call. Their staff should be able to tell you about their emergency procedures, and what safety measures they have in place (like program staff to camper ratio). They should also be able to tell you about where your camper will be sleeping, what their daily schedule will look like, and what kinds of food they’ll be eating.
Tip: Ask: If there is an emergency, how will we find out? What do you consider an emergency?
- Prepare your camper. Do they know how to apply sunscreen, tie their shoes, and fill their water bottle? Are they expected to wear a hat when hiking, or a t-shirt in the pool? If your child takes medicine, they will visit the nurse to take it: Make sure they know what time of day to do that (It’s best to associate it with a meal, or bedtime, instead of telling them, say, 9AM). You know your child best: Will they do better knowing months in advance that they’ll be away from you for a week? Or would they prefer to find out just a week ahead of time? Make sure your camper understands that they will be responsible for showering, brushing teeth, and going to bed on their own.
Tip: As you start to pack and think about camp, ask your campers what they’re excited about and if there’s anything they’re nervous about. Talk through both of these things.
- Embrace the “H” word:Any child can feel homesick during the first day or two of a new experience. Your child should know that it’s a normal feeling, and that with a little effort, it will disappear. Instead of telling your camper that “You can always come home if you don’t like it,” consider coming up with a plan with them for how they might deal with homesickness. Here are some suggestions:
Suggestions for combating homesickness at summer camp:
1) Tell their counselor how they’re feeling,
2) Write a letter or two home,
3) Commit to not thinking about home for 15 minutes at a time,
4) Remember the activity they were most excited about doing, and ask to do it,
5) Make a new friend,
6) Sit next to an adult during a meal.
99% of the time, by the second night at summer camp, the new environment feels more comfortable, every camper has made at least one new friend, and there’s enough excitement about what’s coming next, that your child will forget they were ever homesick.
Tip: Send younger campers with pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes, so they can write letters to friends and family.
- Pack with your camper. Send your camper with clothes that can get dirty, and label everything. Make sure your child knows where their sunscreen is and how to put it on. Show them how to fill their water bottle, and which pairs of shoes they’re taking with them. Above all, remind your camper to ask for help.
Tip: Your camper probably doesn’t use their sleeping bag too often. Will they recognize it in a pile of other sleeping bags? Put a bright, clear label on it, so they don’t lose track of it when moving into and out of their cabin.
Summer camp can be one of the best experiences of your child’s year – and if you’re confident that they’re safe, both physically and emotionally, you can enjoy the time as well.
About Camp Stevens: Camp Stevens is a non-profit summer camp, outdoor education center, and retreat center in the mountains of San Diego County. Owned by the Episcopal Church, Camp Stevens’s core values are openness, gratitude, connection, and wonder, and their summer camp program places children and youth in small groups, to maximize opportunities for making friends, trying new things, and spending time outdoors. Read more about Camp Stevens.