“Mom. You forgot to pack extra socks,” my 10-year-old son said, accusingly after we picked him up from a weeklong overnight camp.
Socks, I mused, mentally searching through the gear I’d packed over a week ago.
I remembered making an extra trip to the store for the hiking socks requested on the camp list.
Had I not packed them?
“Do you mean the hiking socks?” I asked.
“No, just any socks. I have a blister because I wore the same pair of socks all week,” he said, his voice rising.
“I packed more than enough socks,” I assured him. “They were right there with your underwear.”
“Oh yeah: I could not find my underwear, so I wore the same pair of underwear all week, too.”
At this point, his dad and I burst out laughing, but he doesn’t see the humor.
“They were not in the bag! I even had a counselor help me look for them,” he asserted confidently.
Puzzled, I wonder if he could’ve been the victim of a cabin prank in which someone hid his underwear and socks.
When we arrived home, I opened the large gear bag. Lo and behold, jammed in one section, just where I’d packed them, were ample clean socks and underwear.
“Oh, I guess we never saw the second zippered section,” my son said.
My mind jumped back to the night before camp when I finished packing his bag and then, as suggested by the camp guide, walked him through where everything was.
I suppose his, “Yeah, yeah, Mom, I know,” should’ve sounded an alarm that he wasn’t fully engaged.
The following year, he packed his own bag and I reviewed it.
As you pack and prepare to send your child off to camp, whether it’s for the first or fifth time, remember that camp organizers are experts. Just trust their directions — and follow them closely.
Here are some general guidelines I’ve learned (and relearned) after sending two children to various camps for more than six years.
Start early: Review the suggested packing list with your child a few weeks before camp. This will give you time to purchase any missing items. (It might also help your child get excited about camp.)
Let them do it: Have your children pack their own bags (with supervision). This will help them eventually find those important socks and underwear. Plus, it adds to their sense of independence, another reason we choose to send them to camp, right?
Label it: From luggage to individual items, use a system to label every item that leaves your house. Preprinted labels are great, but can be expensive. One year when my daughter attended camp, we created a logo for her using her initials. We marked all her belongings using a permanent marker. Even if another camper had the same initials, her items were uniquely identified.
Be careful with care packages: Double check if these are even allowed at camp. In more rustic surroundings, food isn’t permitted in sleeping quarters because it attracts wild animals. If food is allowed, send enough to share with your child’s cabin mates. But be sensitive to any allergy issues. Many camps are peanut-free or nut-free.
Pack it out: A horse camp my daughter attended suggested campers bring a detailed list of their belongings. When she was packing up to go home, it made it easier for her to locate missing items. For example: She knew she was looking for two pink shirts, not one. She liked this technique so much she’s used it to pack for other camps.
Don’t helicopter: Keep communication to a minimum and obey any camp restrictions. Many camps allow one-way communication in which parents can send a daily letter or email to the child. You’re the expert on your children: Will receiving a daily note from you make them more or less lonely? Our son asked us not to send any notes the second year as he found the notes made him lonely/homesick.
Be strong: I know you may be anxious and missing your child, but don’t call the camp unless it’s an emergency. Pack your own anxiety away and prepare your children for the possibility of homesickness. Tell them it’s normal and can happen to campers of any age. Assure them you know they can handle it. Counselors should be trained to help campers work through these issues. If your child calls crying for you to come and get him, steel yourself and repeat that you’re confident in his ability to manage.
Then speak to the head counselor to assess the situation. This happened to us the first year our son attended camp. But he worked through it (so did Mom and Dad) and he felt quite proud and independent when he completed his first week at camp.
Don’t bring valuables: Jewelry and expensive electronics belong at home. If children attend camp with cell phones or iPads, they might miss opportunities to connect and make new friends. Isn’t that why we’re sending them to camp in the first place?
Sue LeBreton is health and wellness journalist who lives in Calgary, Canada.