the mom’s summer camp survival guide

Both of my girls are at camp this week. I never went to camp as a kid so I’ve been learning how to handle this sleep-away for a week thing as we go along. My oldest (13) is on her third year of camp; her sister (11) joined her this year for the first time. It’s a very traditional sort of camp – simple cabins with approx 16 bunks in each, no air conditioning except in the cafeteria, pretty little lake for swimming every day, plenty of hills & trails in the woods for hiking. It’s sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization so there’s also prayer time every day and Mass twice during the week. There are bonfires and silly legends and lots of goofy songs.

As with many of life’s experiences, I’m excited for my girls. Even as I send them off with a tug in my heart (especially for the 11yo who had tears in her eyes), I am still excited for the growth they’ll experience as they realize they can do things away from home. With that said, their presence is still missed in many ways. And since this camp bans all electronic devices, we have to wait a couple of days for the first letter home to really see how things are going.

On the flip side, while I know they are busy having fun, a touch or two from home is more than welcome. And coming up with ways to reach out to them helps me get through the week too. It’s my way of taking care of them even when I really can’t take care of them. Here are the things I’ve found to be successful over the years, if you have anything to add let me know – after all, I don’t pick them up until Saturday!

The Mom’s Summer Camp Survival Guide

1. Insert a few surprises in their camp bag. This year I printed off a handful of silly jokes and cut them into strips. Then I tucked them in their shoes, clothes, toiletry bag. It should bring a smile to their face as they come across them. I don’t do little love notes because I’m afraid that might make the homesickness worse and the point here is to cheer them up – not make them sad. I also don’t recommend tucking any sort of food in their bags… what if they didn’t find it and ended up with a trail of ants in their clothes?

2. Write a letter early. I sent a letter last week while they were still with me so it would be delivered to them on their very first day of camp. Just because I have to wait to hear from them doesn’t mean they should have to wait to hear from me.

3. Enlist friends & family. I send out their mailing address to family and a few friends and ask them to send a little something – a postcard, a letter, anything. Mail is king when you’re away at camp and the more mail they get the better. The first year my daughter went to camp I employed this tactic and she said not a day went by when she didn’t get mail.

4. Don’t just send letters. Yesterday I created some silly word puzzles (Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker makes this easy). One of the best letters my daughter has received included pages of jokes from her grandfather – she read them to all the girls so it was fun and an ice breaker. A postcard – even from their home town – is a fun way to brighten their day. I’ll print a picture of their brother holding up a sign for them. The idea is to get something fun in the mail so they know someone is thinking of them.

5. The all-important care package. Each year I pick up the $5 all-you-can-fit box from the post office and I stuff it full of fun items. A favorite bag of candy. A magazine. Maybe something to share with her cabin mates – mini-eight balls or bouncy balls or yo-yos.

What else do I do while they are gone? Well, I try to do a few things that I normally can’t. Since I have their younger brother at home, we’ll go out for a few fun activities and I’ll enjoy the one-on-one time. We’ve already gone on a hike where he got to pick all the trails, when we stopped and how long we explored. He loved being in control. When I find myself with no kids at home… well, I’m sure I’ll enjoy the quiet break. And since it’s summertime, I could always fulfill one of my fantasies and take a book to the beach and read all day long. 🙂


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