Having been a camp counselor to three- and four-year-olds for all of high school and some of my college career, I've come to find that sending little kids to camp for the first time is a whole new kind of adventure. Despite an "orientation" where you might meet your child's counselor, pick up a bundle of primary colored t-shirts, and scope out the others in the group, it's hard to know exactly what to expect for the first summer. A few easy tweaks to your routine can make you a seasoned pro in no time.
Your child should come to camp with her sunscreen and bathing suit on.Here's the thing: Getting groups of 10 hyped up kids from Point A to Point B is time-consuming. We're lucky if we get to "swim time" on time. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of time to get your kid into her bathing suit and sunscreened up, so it helps us if you can take care of that from the get-go. (Side note: If you have a girl, put her in a tankini. One-piece bathing suits are a recipe for accidents when she "really has to go potty.")
Don't linger around drop off.Please try to take pictures of your child's first day of camp at home. With you quietly (or, for some, not so quietly) Instagramming every moment of your son's first time meeting his fellow campers, your presence becomes a distraction and soon your kid thinks moms come to camp too. A quick kiss and hug goodbye usually works best.
Try not to tell your child exactly what time you'll be picking him up.The best timetable I've heard a parent give her child is, "I'll see you after lunchtime." This forces kids to focus on the activities they're doing instead of the actual time. Plus, we don't have to answer the dreaded, "Mom said she's coming back at 12. What time is it now?" question 50 times.
Your son or daughter might learn some new words you'll have to explain.At three and four, kids don't exactly have filters. I once had a camper tell his girl friend that he had a "big boy penis now." When asked what a penis was, we deferred her to her mother for an explanation. This isn't because we can't offer one, but it's a fairly universal camp rule that explaining body parts (especially private ones) to children is the job of a parent.
Your kid will cry at least once.Tears are inevitable. Whether it's angst or just a bad day, there will be a point during the camp season where your child will be inconsolable. If this happens, warn us at drop off and offer an explanation if you have one. We have no issue with the waterworks, but our goal as counselors is to solve the problem before other children are affected.
Pack extra underwear every single day.Accidents will happen. Just because your child is potty trained doesn't make camp any less nerve-wracking. It puts kids (and certainly counselors) at ease to know that there is a backup plan if they don't make it to the toilet in time.
Tell us about food allergies before Day 1.Lots of children have lists of foods that are off-limits, but we need to know about them before the first day of camp. If your kid can't be anywhere near tree nuts, we need to be able to send a note out to the other parents before they start planning lunches.
Trust that your preschooler is in good hands.As counselors, we've been trained to deal with just about any disaster that could come our way from medical to minor. Not every game will go your child's way or she might have a bad stomachache. Either way, we've got it handled and can promise that by the end of the summer, your kid will forget about that time she lost a game of tag and her tummy troubles will be long gone, too.
T.K. Brady is an Editorial Assistant for Parents magazine who loves iced coffee, salty snacks and tap dancing. Follow her on Twitter: @tk_brady
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Image: Summer camp via Shutterstock