Grand Rapids, Mich. — The little girl in the top bunk made strange noises and rocked her bunk, disturbing the other children in the lean-to. Nothing the counselors did seemed to quiet her.
That little camper was me my first time at camp. The problem:
I was cold as temperatures in the mountains dropped down to 55 degrees F. at night. I had come to camp with inadequate bedding.
Since that time I've spent a number of summers as a counselor and seen a lot of children come to camp, some well prepared and some not. Those that come prepared are ready to make the most out of the experience. There are many things a parent can to do get children ready, mentally and physically.
As the time for camp approaches, begin assembling things to be taken. Do this with the child. Often a camp will provide an equipment list. Some have taboos against certain items such as radios, snacks, or knives which either might be dangerous or interfere with the camp routine.
When choosing clothing you should not find it necessary to run out and buy a whole new wardrobe. If the child is going to be studying nature, camping out, or active in crafts, old clothes will serve well. Shorts or slacks outfits, jeans, and T-shirts that can fit a variety of activities are best if the camp is a general one. Specialized camps will let you know through their equipment lists what unusual items or clothing might be needed.
Don't forget to take climate and altitude into consideration when selecting clothes. Camps in the mountains will be colder at night than your home in the city, suburbs, or valley. Long pants, sweat shirts, and jackets will make evenings around the campfire more comfortable.
Some camps go through a rainy season -- perhaps a whole week -- where there is little sunshine or time to dry out wet things. This can be an eternity for a camper who is ill-prepared. Talk with your child about the poncho or rain jacket and boots he or she should be wearing when it rains.
As you assemble the clothes and equipment the child will need, it is always wise to attach identifying labels. Many camps have a lost and found, but labels clearly establish ownership.
Be wise when it comes to sending valuables to camp. They can be a temptation for other children or become misplaced. Your child may need to be cautioned against lending or borrowing things as well.
One of the camps I worked at prohibited lending, but it would sometimes occur without the counselors being aware of it. Not every child will take good care of another's clothes or equipment.
On packing day, don't do it all yourself. Let your child pack while you make a list, in duplicate, of everything going to camp. Keep one copy and send the other off with the child. If the child knows what items have been packed, he or she will be much more likely to remember to bring them home.
Another kind of preparation that should be going on besides clothes gathering and packing is more mental in nature.
If your child is going to camp for the first time, it helps if he or she has a bit of an idea what the experience will be like. Seeing the camp together before the camping session begins is an excellent starting point. If this is not possible, go back to the camp brochure. Find pictures of the dining facility, cabins, and recreational buildings and areas. Talk together about what the child will be doing in those places.
Talk about being in a cabin with other campers. Emphasize the need to get along with others, how to be quiet at night so everyone can get his sleep, listen to the counselor.
Talk over routines for cleanliness. Camp is usually pretty fast moving. Counselors don't always notice if a camper slips by without a regular shower.
Let the child know what you'll be doing while he or she is at camp. This is reassuring. But don't make it sound as if it's going to be awful for you while he's away! Let your camper know you'll be having a good time and that you expect he will be too.
One of my friends told me that her mother used to send a post card a few days early so it would be at camp when she first got there. It always made her feel that her mom was still caring for her, and that's probably the most important thing.