For hundreds of thousands of kids every year, summer camp offers a brief, but intense, introduction to independent living. Away from the helping hands of parents and siblings, many campers are startled to find themselves responsible for, well, themselves for the first time in their lives. Most rise to the challenge, finding responsibility and independence a thrilling glimpse into the world of growing up. But others flounder, relying heavily on new friends and counselors to help them through their stay at camp.
Although camp staff members are happy to provide assistance when it's needed, your campers will learn more and feel better if they can do things for themselves. If you're one of those parents who is constantly surprised by the things your kids know how to do - troubleshoot your home computer, program the TIVO, make fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches – you'll be amazed at the things they don't know how to do.
Don't send your kids to camp without teaching them these basic skills.
1. Use a Calling Card.
The proliferation of cell phones at summer camp has prompted many a camp director to ban their use during camp sessions. Others are able to avoid the problem altogether because their camps are delightfully "out of range." Prep your camper to live without his mobile for the duration of his camp stay. And encourage him to leave the pricey equipment at home.
Although most camps discourage frequent calls home, cellular or otherwise, many provide telephones for "emergency" use, as in the case of the camper runs out of money or scores the winning goal in a big game. Other times, a quick phone call home can reassure a homesick camper or calm a nervous parent. Whatever the reason for the phone call, it will be a lot easier for the camper if he has a calling card and knows how to use it. Have your child practice using it before camp. Maybe he can call a grandparent or other long-distance friend.
2. Call Collect.
Campers who also know how to call collect will know exactly what to do if they lose their calling cards. Teach them your preferred method, whether it's through the operator or 1-800-COLLECT or some other number. Let them test it out so they'll know what to expect when the operator or automated system answers and begins barking questions.
Knowing how to make a collect phone call and an operator-assisted phone call is also important in the unlikely event that your child finds himself lost or separated from his group. That way, he can call for help even if he doesn't have any money.
3. Make a Bed.
If your camper is going to be away for an extended period of time, at some point he's going to want clean sheets. (See laundry section below.) And, after his sheets are clean, he's going to need to put them on his bed. Of course, if he makes his bed every morning, he may avoid having to do laundry by keeping unwanted dirty shoes, snack crumbs and creepy crawlies out of his sheets. Besides, going to bed is always nicer when your sheets are straight and your blankets are tucked in.
4. Do Laundry.
Campers often come to camp with enough clothes that they won't have to do laundry while they are away from home. Some camp sessions are very short, and some campers bring A LOT of clothes. If your camper is going to be away for a few weeks, and laundry facilities are available at his camp, you may want to consider packing fewer items and more laundry detergent. His bags will be lighter and there will be less to lose. You don't have to go into the theory behind separating lights and darks; he's just going to wash them all together anyway. But make sure you pre-wash any new clothes before they go to camp … especially the red stuff.
If the camp doesn't have laundry facilities for camper use, consider teaching your children how to wash things by hand. No one wants to come up short in the underwear department.
5. Eat Right.
At many camps, kids are offered several choices at mealtimes. They can choose wisely and enjoy a high energy level and overall well-being during their camp stay. Or they can choose poorly and suffer the many consequences, ranging from fatigue and irregularity to sugar highs and headaches. Remind your campers to go easy on the sugar and junk food and fill up on complex carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables instead.
6. Take a Shower.
Preteen campers are notorious for their inability to attend to matters of personal hygiene. Daily showers, tooth-brushing, deodorant. These trivial concepts are easily overlooked in the morning rush to breakfast. After all, what's a little body odor between friends when there's only so much Cap'n Crunch to go around?
Because campers are embarrassed by hygiene talk, this is a tricky issue for counselors to handle. Make sure your campers know that proper hygiene is a health concern, as well as a social concern.
7. Spot Poison Ivy/Poison Oak.
You know the drill, but do your kids? If it's green and has three leaves, stay away from it. Even though it may just be Virginia Creeper, you don't want to take any chances. Wash with soap and water immediately if you come into contact with something suspicious.
8. Kill a Bug.
Whether they stay in a tent or a dorm or somewhere in between, your campers are going to come across some bugs this summer. If they can't live with it, they're going to have to kill it. Try to prepare them for their own starring role in Shoe vs. Spider. If they can't handle that, maybe they're up for Rolled-Up Magazine Meets Cockroach.
9. Medicate a Headache.
Camps handle over-the-counter medications differently, so if your child regularly takes medicines like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl or Sudafed for common aches or allergies, you'll have to ask what to do. Most camps require that all medications be dispensed through the camp infirmary, but others allow campers to self-medicate minor aches and pains with over-the-counter medications brought from home. If the camp allows self-medication, and you are comfortable with your child doing so, teach your child how to determine the correct dosage (amount and frequency) for every medication you send. Don't forget to tell them to let a counselor know when they need these medications. Even if they don't need help taking them, you'll want a responsible adult to monitor health-related concerns, in case they develop into something more serious.
If the camp does not allow self-medication, respect their rules and make sure you give them the information they'll need to help your child feel his best every day. Encourage your child to communicate with the appropriate camp staff member(s) about health concerns as they arise.
10. Find Help.
No matter where your children are – summer camp, a school dance, the local mall – the one thing they must know how to do is find help. Teach them when and how to locate a trustworthy adult. Assure them that they should never be afraid to ask for assistance if they are uncomfortable in a situation, that they never need to handle a problem alone, that it's OK to seek help and that no question is ever too stupid to be asked.
Camp counselors, doctors and directors are all on hand to help if the need arises.
With a little advance preparation, your campers will be able to handle whatever obstacles come their way, be they spiders, dirty socks or long-distance phone calls!