7 Tips for Surviving Sleep-Away Camp

Audrey¬† just got back from a week of sleep away camp. Last year was the first time she experienced a week of sleep away camp, and it was the best week of her year. This year was no different–a smash hit, even though it was hot and there were thunderstorms.

Her camp is a great little old-fashioned Christian camp, a camp I attended when I was her age. The girls spend their days boating, swimming, eating ice cream, and making crafts. Audrey learned how to shoot a bow-and-arrow, performed in a skit, and won her village’s Bible Sword Drill. It’s all very wholesome and fun in a way that kids don’t get much of a chance to do in these days of technology.

Tips for surviving sleep-away camp

7 Tips for Surviving Sleep Away Camp

1. Pack enough, but not too much

Last year, I packed an outfit for each day, plus two extras. Each outfit (shirt, shorts, socks, undies) went into a gallon-sized zip-top bag. This year, Audrey felt that she would be fine without the zip-top bags, so we just folded each individual outfit together. That way, Audrey could just pull a full outfit out of her bag and put it on. Those counselors run the girls hard, so the mornings are probably pretty groggy. Especially for my not-morning-person girl!

Make sure that the pillowcase you send is not one you care about too much. The best kind would be something with a distinctive pattern, so it is easy for your child to tell which is hers. Along that same vein, this is the time to use those random not-so-cute T-shirts you have accumulated. You know, from events, races, sports teams, or VBS weeks in years past. It’s not the time for your child to wear her newest outfits.

Small bottles of the essential toiletries will be plenty. At least at Audrey’s camp, showers are few and far between. Use the extra space for another bottle of sunscreen and bug spray. Your child’s camp may send you a list of things to bring, so be sure to check your information.

It’s nice for your child to have at least two towels and bathing suits, so one can by drying while she uses the other. At the last minute, I stuck one of those cheap plastic bag rain ponchos in. And she wore it!

2. Label (almost) everything

I bought labels online from Oliver’s Labels with Audrey’s name printed on them. There are many such label companies, but this one seemed to be the best price for what I wanted to order. Conveniently, they were a birthday present for her, as her birthday is at the beginning of July. I do think it’s worth buying labels, even though they are a bit pricey. But having shoe labels and labels you can just stick into the back of each shirt make the packing process so much less of a headache. Personally, I don’t have the patience for iron-in labels. I like the kind that are sticky, but still can be machine washed.

Don’t put a label on your child’s under-things. Is she really going to want to claim that pair if they have been lying on the floor in the middle of the cabin? Just assume that you will have to buy a new package of undies for back-to-school.

3. Send stationery

Audrey’s camp has a daily rest hour, where campers are encouraged to write letters home. Last year, I got her a little pack of note cards, some stamps, and a paper with essential addresses (ours, her best friends’, and her grandparents’). I also included some ideas of things she could tell us in her letters in case she didn’t know what to say:

  • Which electives did you choose?
  • Who are your cabin mates?
  • What did you have for dinner?
  • What did you learn about in Bible?
  • What’s something funny/silly/messy that happened today?

4. Encourage your child’s good decision-making skills

Audrey’s camp has a Trading Post, where children can buy snacks and treats during free time each afternoon. I knew that she would be presented with all kinds of junk foods, the quantities of which she does not encounter at home. As much as I value my children’s healthy diet, going to camp is a great low-risk time to experiment with independence. I did not put any restrictions on her buying soda, ice cream, or candy. I just reminded her that she wanted to feel good to have fun at camp, and to not overdo it.

It turned out that the camp only allowed kids to buy two sugary snacks each day, anyway! And you’d better believe that she bought her full quota of junk.

Besides choosing what to eat, camp is a great way for children to learn to make their own decisions about what to do. Audrey’s camp allows them to choose three electives from a long list of traditional “camp” activities. Kids have to make a choice without their parents’ input, something that may be a first experience for many of them. What a great way to grow!

5. Write to your child

It probably goes without saying, but everyone loves getting mail. Last year, I mailed my first letter to Audrey on the Friday before she arrived, so that on Monday she would get a letter. Even though Rich, Georgia, and I all sent letters this year, I was informed that Some Kids were sent a Care Package. I guess I’ll get right on that for next year!

6. Lower your expectations

They come home filthy, with all their stuff crammed into their suitcases, tangled hair, and everything smelly. Even if you pack a dirty-clothes or wet-shoes bag.

7. Trust the process

It’s strange to have your child away from home with no way to contact her. Those couple of letters we get each year are a spot of light in our week, but during the other times it can be easy to start to worry. Is she wearing sunscreen? Is she drinking enough water? Is she homesick? Are those college kids really ready to take care of her? Is she having fun?

But I just kept telling myself that this camp has been around for years. They are experts at keeping kids safe, giving them a good time, and completely wearing them out. Before you know it, you’ll be picking up your little camper. And the first thing out of her mouth will be, “I want to come back to sleep away camp next year!”

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3 comments to 7 Tips for Surviving Sleep Away Camp

  • Good idea to send ideas with the stationery! My son went to camp last year, and all his letters were “Hi, I am fine, I am having fun. Love, Rob”!

    I didn’t label his socks/underwear either. I figured I would rather replace it than label all of it.

    Number 7 has been one of the most important parts for me, for everything from the first bus ride to the first day of school to camp to ANYTHING with lots of kids. I think, “My child is not the only one who is new to this, and the teachers/instructors/counselors are used to kids who are new at this.” Very comforting.
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    • Amy

      Oh, socks. I didn’t label those, either. It might be better for those yucky things to be lost!

      You’re right about applying #7 to school or other scenarios. It makes it a bit easier to release that grip of control I try to convince myself I have over my kids.

      A one-line letter is better than nothing! Audrey’s friend told her mom that she absolutely wouldn’t be writing any letters the entire week, so not to expect any. And she didn’t! I’m not sure what she did during rest time…
      Amy recently posted..7 Tips for Surviving Sleep Away CampMy Profile

      • Rebecca

        Hey Amy – This is Audrey’s friend’s mom from your above post. And as you said, we received no letters. I appreciated your tip #7 – Trust the process. Those were my exact thoughts all week. And sure enough, the process worked.

        I didn’t label anything that I would have missed. E got blisters from her sneakers that had suddenly become too small in the past month. About a week after she got home, we realized that her sneakers didn’t come home with her. Oh well, it didn’t matter because they were too small anyway. She thinks she left them under the bed. I just hope someone with size 2 feet finds them and enjoys a nearly new pair of black Converse high-tops!

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