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Insider's Guide to Summer Camp

You've booked the summer camp--now here are 12 things parents REALLY need to know to ensure their child has a great experience.
Child sitting on suitcase 1. Follow the Packing List

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it? Most camps send a list to parents several weeks before the camp's start date. The list usually contains must-haves (soap, shampoo, laundry detergent) and must-nots (cell phones, electronic games, MP3 players). If you don't study the packing list carefully you may discover later (with tears on the side) that your child can't have his favorite electronic game with him or can't swim without the goggles you forgot.

Bending the rules, even a little, is discouraged and may have surprising repercussions on your child, experts say. "By encouraging your children to sneak in forbidden items, you're sending the message that they are somehow special and rules don't apply to them," says Ann Sheets, past president of the American Camp Association (ACA) in Martinsville, Indiana (ACAcamps.org). "This will cause problems with the staff and with fellow campers, which won't help your child settle in."

San Antonio mom Julie Finley ran into a problem when she sent an over-the-counter drug with one of her sons to camp. "If the camp says no medicines without prescriptions, they mean it," she warns. "Despite the instructions, I sent Tylenol with our youngest just to be safe. (He's prone to headaches.) He had to deal with the ramifications of my trying to be too prepared. The way he tells it, they treated it like drug smuggling, but I don't think it was that serious," she says. The lesson learned: "You have to trust that the camp personnel are well trained to deal with the typical needs of campers, including a headache!"