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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Have a First-time Summer Camper?   

By Cherie Gough

As you begin to consider the perfect day camp for your little artist, swimmer or scientist, you may worry because camp is unfamiliar territory. Help prepare your child for what’s ahead with these tips to make his or her first camp experience a positive one.

One, Two Buckle My Shoe: The Basics Children should memorize full name, address and a parent’s cell phone number before camp begins.

Many day camps require closed-toe shoes and many activities need kids to get shoes on and off quickly. Practice tying shoelaces or consider Velcro shoes. Even then, do trial runs toward getting shoes on and off in a timely manner.

Children should be able to zip jackets and pants (or wear ones that pull on). Teach them to tie a jacket around their waist, if necessary.

For half-day camp, apply sunscreen before leaving; children who attend full-day camp should know how and when to reapply.

C is for Cookie: Stress-free Lunches Packaging often poses a problem for little fingers. Practice opening wrappers and containers at home. Don’t assume camp staff will have time to assist everyone.

One in 13 children has a food allergy; it’s likely that someone at camp will, too. Swapping snacks sounds like fun, but it’s not safe for many kids. Cross-contamination can pose a big problem for kids allergic to nuts or gluten. Teach children not to share food and to respect other people’s space by not touching their lunchbox and food.

Stop yourself the next time you start to clean up after your kids. Teach children how to sort trash from recyclables, throw items in proper bins, and most importantly, not to expect adults to clean up after them. 

You’ve Got a Friend in Me: Social Skills For many first-time campers, enrolling with a buddy helps ease jitters. But it’s important to gain the confidence to make new friends. Review and role-play skills that show openness to making friends:

Practice how to greet someone new. Make eye contact and smile.

When someone says, “Hi!” teach your child to reply, even if she feels shy. Not responding may be misconstrued as her not wanting to be friends.

Remind children to take turns.

Discuss the idea that not everyone has to be friends—especially if your child is a people pleaser. 

Almost There: Assertiveness Children should know how (and be willing) to ask for help when needed. Let camp know of any special needs ahead of time. Kids and staff can agree on a signal to get a staff member’s attention.

Have kids practice asking for what they want (politely). Be sure he says “please” and “thank you” without your cue. 

Practice simple, direct responses to communicate dissatisfaction when necessary, such as, “I don’t like that. Don’t do it again.” If an annoying behavior continues from another child, ask a camp counselor for help. 

Camp is for trying new things. Let your child know he or she’s expected to participate in all activities, and that it’s OK if they don’t do everything just right. A child who pouts or is unwilling to try new things may not be ready for camp. Kids who follow directions and are willing to venture into new territory have an opportunity to learn many skills that build confidence and independence. 

Cherie Gough is a writer and mom of two who enjoys the enrichment camp brings to her kids’ summer. Find her on IG @cgoughwrites.