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Prepping your first-time camper

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Build excitement by exploring the camp's website and brochures together. - MONKEY BUSINESS IMAGES / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
  • Build excitement by exploring the camp's website and brochures together.

Heading off to overnight camp is an exciting experience for first-time campers. It's a chance to leave behind their ordinary routine and go on an adventure, learning cool skills, making new friends and gaining a sense of courage and independence. However, it can also be intimidating to think about leaving home and staying with strangers in a new environment. Whether your camper is headed to wilderness camp, sport camp, theater camp or some other overnight experience, a bit of preparation will greatly improve the experience for your child ... and you.

Your best preparation tactic for creating an amazing experience is to generate a lot of excitement in the days leading up to camp. Check out the camp website with your child, look through the brochures and talk about which activities they'll want to try out. Ask them what they can't wait to do and what they think they will learn from camp. This will build enthusiasm that will carry them when they're worried about making new friends or wondering if they'll get homesick.

Homesickness is probably the biggest concern (for parents, as well) when it comes to overnight camp. Preventing or minimizing it lies in preparation. Talk with your child ahead of time about how to cope when he or she is feeling sad or longing for home. Pack a few "emergency" letters or a beloved toy to help them feel a connection to home during tough moments. Encourage them to write you when they're feeling down, even if they never actually send the letter.

Proper packing will also go a long way toward making your camper's experience a good one. Don't skimp on the camp's recommended packing list. You may think that requiring 12 pairs of underwear is excessive, but rest assured, they aren't in cahoots with Hanes to drive up sales of knickers. They've likely experienced every underwear fiasco imaginable and determined that 12 is the best-case scenario for preventing such mishaps. In short, follow the list.

One last note on preparing your child for overnight camp. While there's no doubt you've done your due diligence in selecting an accredited camp with excellent counselors and great fellow campers, it's still a good idea to have a refresher talk on body safety before your child leaves. This way, they'll feel confident about saying no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

But what about you? Are you ready for your child to spend a week away? Believe it or not, you're actually going to miss them, no matter how grateful you are to read a book uninterrupted, or use the bathroom in peace. And just like your child, you need to prepare for camp, too.

First, be ready to let go. The urge to over-parent can be strong, but it's important to remember that one of the many purposes of an overnight camp is to help kids foster a sense of independence and learn how to navigate friendships, conflict and decision-making when you're not around.

When you do communicate, keep it lighthearted — don't spend entire letters or phone calls asking them if they remembered their inhaler on each hike or applied their eczema cream every night. They're going to be fine without your nagging.

If you have an entirely empty house once your camper has left, make plans to get out and have a little fun. Are you partnered up? Remember those days before the two of you became parental units? Use this unfettered time to rekindle the romance that often gets pushed aside by refereeing squabbles or chauffeuring small humans to activities. Have a date night. Hell, have several date nights or even a weekend away.

If you're a single parent, let your friends know you can finally say "yes!" to a night out. Be sure to savor the lack of curfew and the extra spending money not used on sitters. Whatever you do with the time, don't feel guilty about enjoying it. Your child is having a great time and you should, too.

For those who will still have a kid or two traipsing about, this is a chance to spend some quality one-on-one time with whomever is left behind. Take your housebound child out to an event that focuses on their unique interests, a movie that only they would love or even something as simple as dinner at their favorite restaurant. Just make sure you don't do anything too awesome. Nobody wants to come home and find out the whole family went to Disney World without them, no matter how great canoeing and archery was.

Summer camp can be great for the whole family, especially if everyone knows what to expect. Preparing your first-time camper for the experience will ensure they have a lot of fun while learning to be independent. Preparing yourself will help you make the most of the downtime at home, which means less time spent worrying. And when everyone is back under the same roof, you'll have new stories and experiences to share — and next year to look forward to.

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