Getting Ready for Overnight Camp

summer camp trunk and packing list


Most camps give you a packing list which covers the essentials. However, some appear rather sparse and you feel that surely some creature comforts must be missing.

For a more comprehensive list, I have combined the lists of 20 traditional summer camps in North Carolina. Download the ultimate sleepaway camp packing list.

A few tips:

  • After you have assembled your items, be sure to include your child in the packing process; they need to be able to find their stuff once they get to camp.
  • Everything should be considered disposable: do not pack anything you’d be upset to have destroyed or lost. A week in the woods will challenge even the most fastidious kid to keep things neat and clean.
  • Review your packing list and make sure you have everything, and that it fits. Trying to rush out and buy sweatpants at the last minute is not easy – Target doesn’t carry them in the summer.
  • And this apparently cannot be reiterated enough: LABEL EVERYTHING, even the toothbrush. Order your clothing labels now!


It’s OK to be Homesick

Being away from home is tough. New people, a new environment, and different food. Before your child goes away, talk about the fact they may be homesick for a few days. It doesn’t mean that they won’t have a fabulous time. They may cry themselves to sleep the first night because they want to go home, but at the end they‘ll be crying because they want to stay.

First make sure to define homesick feelings, which can vary. There may be a general malaise from missing mommy and daddy, it may strike at night in the bunk bed, or it may come from not liking the food. You can help your child to identify the signs and come up with ways to think positively.

It may help to discuss that homesickness is not exclusive to the world of summer camp, and that affects some people more than others. For example, my husband hates to travel for work because he misses his family and his own bed. I, on the other hand, view it as a welcome opportunity to read my book in peace and quiet on the airplane.

Research shows that most kids recover from homesickness quickly, but for some it might last the whole session. It won’t prevent them from learning and having fun; they just may need extra counseling. Speaking about coping mechanisms or how to talk to counselors when they feel homesick will give your child confidence should they find themselves in that situation. Kids who experience severe homesickness sometimes turn out to be the most dedicated campers, returning year after year.

If your child asks “What if I totally hate camp?” the absolutely incorrect response is “Call me and I can come and pick you up.” As this New York Times article states, it puts everyone – camp staff, you, your child – in an awkward, no-win situation. Instead, encourage them to talk to their counselor and give it a few days.

If you’re worried about your child, speak to the camp staff in advance. Most counselors will be trained on how to deal with homesickness. Talk to the camp director and find out their specific strategies. They may be able to share some prior campers’ experiences that will put your mind at ease.

Great advice from a 30-year camp veteran can be found in 10 Messages for a Homesick Camper on the Sunshine Parenting Blog.

Dr. Michael Thompson, the author of Homesick & Happy - How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow believes that summer camp helps children develop the necessary skills for independence and offers advice to parents sending their kids away for the first time.

The author discussed the concepts on the radio program Charlotte Talks Listen to the show here.


Advanced Prep

Mail & Care Packages. Send letters in advance so your camper will have something to open right away. Some camps no longer allow care packages, so be sure to check the rules.

Review camp policies regarding electronics. Know what you can take and what you can’t. Stock up on batteries as needed.

Review communication policies. Set expectations with your child as to when and how often you’ll be able to call. Some camps offer a parent portal where you can view pictures, so even if you can’t communicate directly, you may catch a glimpse of your child overcoming their fear of the ropes course.


Be Positive

Your child should arrive at camp with the expectation that he will try new things and have a wonderful time. If you’re anxious and worried, he will pick that up and wonder if he should be anxious and worried. Give your child the tools he needs to be prepared both mentally and physically, and plan for a great summer!



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Overnight Camp Tips and Spotlights