For parents and kids alike, achieving sleepaway camp status is a milestone but getting kids ready feels like training for an Olympic event. Last week our kids packed up their stuff and boarded a cross country flight for their two weeks of unplugged fun at sleepaway camp.
Whether your kids are camp veterans like ours or are brand new to sleepaway camp, there are things you can do before, during, and after they return to make being away from home easier.
As a mom who has sent her kids away to sleepaway camp for years, here are some tips to help you and your kids enjoy your time away.
Before They Go to Sleepaway Camp
Regardless if it’s your child’s first summer attending sleepaway camp or they’re veterans like ours, time at camp is always made easier with a few key essentials. Here are my top 6 items our kids never leave home without.
- Personalized Duffel Bag— Independent kids heading off to camp need a bag of their very own and we can’t recommend L.L. Bean Large Rolling Adventure Duffels ($129) enough! These duffels are durable, easy to wheel, large enough to hold 2 weeks of gear for camp, and easy to spot on the luggage carousel. Pro tip: Spend the extra $8 to get your bags personalized to have their name stitched right on the side in the thread color of your choice.
- Sleepaway Camp Labels— Don’t let your family’s belongings get left in the mountain of unclaimed stuff! Help your kids ensure that their stuff gets back to them thanks to Mabel’s Labels. We’ve been slapping personalized Mabel’s Labels on water bottles, mess kits, articles of clothing, and even digital devices like phones, tablets, and portable chargers for years. These bright, vibrant, waterproof, and highly durable labels are dishwasher and laundry friendly and help our kids find their stuff in a pile with everyone else’s. If something gets misplaced, everyone else knows who it belongs to. Pro tip: If you’re ordering a set of Sleepaway Camp Labels, also order a Back to School combo set for school!
- Laundry Bag— Even if your camp does laundry, keep dirties sequestered from clean clothes to prevent the spread of stink. A lightweight reusable laundry bag makes it easy for kids to ensure that dirty clothes have a place to go at the end of the day and socks stay together. Pro tip: Send more socks and underwear than they need.
- Favorite Stuffed Animal/Blanket/Pillow— Think your tween or teen is too old for that favorite stuffed animal that’s worn like the Velveteen Rabbit and who is usually ignored at home? You might be surprised when they tuck it into their bag. The poor creature might never see the light of day but just having it there provides comfort. The same is true with a favorite blanket, pillow, or other lovey so don’t discourage them from taking something that is special and will help them fall asleep at night, regardless of how old they are.
- Stationary & Stamps— Even if you don’t think your child will write while away at camp, tuck some camp themed notecards and envelopes, stamps, addresses of loved ones, and a pen and pencil in a quart size Ziplock bag because they might just surprise you with a letter that you’ll treasure forever!
- Lantern, Flashlight, or Headlamp— Years of Scout camping trips and camp have resulted in a light source being one of the things our kids never leave home without. Maglight Minis are great powerful compact flashlights that are just around $10 but headlamps provide a hands-free light source and ones that feature red lights prevent kids from blinding others when walking in the dark. For more light inside a tent or to illuminate a platform, you can’t go wrong with a compact rechargeable lantern like this one from Outbright that provides 50,000 hours of light on a single charge.
3 Things Parents Should Do Before Kids Leave
While you’re getting your kids ready for sleepaway camp, here are 3 things you should do before they go:
- Write and send letters, especially if their camp is far away and it will take days for mail to get to them. Pro tip: Be sure to check on the camp’s policy on sending packages and food. Some camps make campers open packages in front of counselors and will confiscate food. Others only allow things to be sent in envelopes with a maximum of two stamps. Be sure to also communicate this to well-intentioned grandparents, relatives, and friends when you share your child’s camp address.
- Plan something fun to do in their absence. If a sibling is home, make special plans with them. If you’ve won the parent lottery by being at home kidless, plan to do something you never get to do with your significant other. Pro tip: Instead of pining for my kids while they’re away, my husband and I are practicing being empty nesters and having our own fun because 18 summers are a lie!
- Relax. Besides the stuff that kids need for camp, leaving home can be anxiety producing for kids and parents alike. I completely understand parental nerves that come with sending your child away to camp whether they’re going down the street or across the country. While there can be a lot of worry about our kids not being with us, it’s a good idea to not let your emotions and nerves get the best of you in front of your kids. Kids always pick up on how we’re feeling and our emotions can easily transfer to them.
“Parents are trying to protect their kids, but they over protect them. In overprotecting them, they disempower them. Kids feel like they can’t do anything without help and the parents are convinced that is true…This fear has intensified in recent years for all parents. My suggestion—-relax.”
Time away IS good for them because it will help them develop confidence for life and they often come home with a new appreciation of home and family.
3 Things to Do While They’re Away
Make Plans— Once you’ve shed those tears, gotten used to the quiet of your house, and high fived your spouse for successfully getting your kids off to camp, have you planned to make the most of your time? I suggest that if your kids are going to be away at all during the summer, now is the time to make those plans!
Enjoy Date Nights— Last year when our tween and teen were away for the same week during the summer, my husband and I got a taste of what it would be like as empty nesters. We hit the happy hour circuit, enjoying delectable discounted sips and bites at downtown DC restaurants we can’t seem visit during the school year and * gasp * talking about topics other than the kids. We felt a little guilty about enjoying our time together until we realized they were having a blast without us too.
We’ve also done practical things that are easier to do when there are two fewer bodies in the house like getting our hardwood floors refinished. Exciting, I know but necessary!
Keep Sending Letters— Also keep writing those letters but instead of saying how much you miss them, take a lesson from this dad who tells his kids these four simple things when they leave the house. Telling your kids that you miss them could trigger camp anxiety if they’re having a hard time being away from home.
2 Things to Do When They Return from Sleepaway Camp
You’ve stalked the camp’s Facebook page, gotten their letters, and spent countless minutes wondering how they’re doing without you but when your child arrives home, give them a huge hug, ask them about camp, and then listen. Put down your phone and LISTEN. They’ll have so much to tell you about their experience and friends that you want to stop what you’re doing and hear the excitement in their voice and see the twinkle in their eyes.
Chances are they made new friends and it’s a great idea for kids to stay in touch, especially if your child wants to return to the same camp with their new friends. My teenage daughter stays in touch with camp friends in California via Instagram and Snapchat but parents of younger kids can reach out to the camp to ask about the policy about connecting camper families via email.
All opinions are my own and based on years of getting our kids ready for camp. No compensation was received but affiliate links are included in this post.