Things to do before camp

Before your child comes to camp, especially if it is his or her first time, here is a list of things you and your camper can do to help ensure the experience is a positive one. All of these suggestions have proven to be helpful for both parents and children attending overnight camp. Even if your camper is a returning one, some of these suggestions may still be very useful. These ideas and strategies have been developed by Chris Thurber and Bob Ditter, who have been camp behavioral professionals for more than 20 years.

1. INVOLVE YOUR CHILD: As soon as you decide to send your child to camp, involve him in the process. This includes choosing a session, deciding whether or not to request a cabin mate, and any extra activities he wants to sign up for. By getting them involved in the process, children have more "buy in" going to camp. Also, by having children involved early on, it can help minimize homesickness because your child understands more about what camp is all about and he has had a say in his upcoming experience.

2. COMPLETE ALL THE PAPERWORK: Click here to get the forms

There is a good deal of paperwork involved in sending your child to camp. Our PDF forms are self-populating, so as you type in information, it will be filled in automatically in the other forms. The most time sensitive of these forms is the CAMPER HEALTH HISTORY form and the CAMPER HEALTH-CARE RECOMMENDATIONS form. Your child needs to have a physical that has been done within 24 months of when your child comes to camp. If your camper needed a physical for school this year, you can submit that with your paperwork. Please be honest in filling out these forms. The better health information we have on campers, the easier it is for our medical staff to treat them if necessary. Another important form is the AUTHORIZATIONS form. This is the form that tells us who is authorized to pick up your child from camp, and it provides us with numbers and emails to contact you in case of an emergency. The LETTER TO MY COUNSELOR form gives the cabin staff some useful information about your child so they can read about the campers in their cabin before each session. This is also the form you use to make cabin mate requests. Please remember that cabin mate requests need to be reciprocal in nature.

3. SPEND PRACTICE TIME AWAY FROM HOME: This step is very important if this summer is your child’s first time away from home for an overnight. Try to arrange for your child to spend at least one night or a whole weekend at a friend's house. Having them spend time at a relative's home is okay too, but not as productive as time spent at a non-family member's home. Family vacations also help, but only with being away from home, not being away from family.

4. DISCUSS HOMESICKNESS: Yes, really discuss it! Taking time to talk about what homesickness is, what it might look and feel like, and ways to manage it can all be great topics to talk about before your child arrives at camp. Let them know that missing home IS NATURAL! It does not make them a bad or weak child. In reality, some staff also get homesick each summer. And by talking about it and ways to handle it, some of the power and fear around homesickness can be eliminated or at least reduced.

5. USE A WALL CALENDAR: Once you decide on a session, mark those dates on a calendar that is in an easily accessible place, like the kitchen or your child’s room. Note the dates for camp, and other dates leading up to camp, like “One month 'til camp” and “One week 'til camp." By letting children see their camp session on a calendar, it can help them keep track of time as camp gets closer. During the school year, time can seem to pass very quickly. Soon your child is off to camp and it has snuck up on him and on you. Often, it is this “surprise” that leads to homesickness.

6. LABEL EVERYTHING AND PACK WELL: As the time for camp gets closer, start deciding what things your child will be taking to camp. Decide on things like clothes, swimsuits, towels, bedding, etc. Then, begin to label things. Get a permanent marker and label things on the inside tags or some other place that will not make your child feel embarrassed. Many kids think it is dorky to have their name written on something, until they lose it. If you don’t want to use a marker, you can get iron-on labels. Seriously, if you want an object back, label it! Lots of kids have the same shoes, shirts, hats, etc. Pack with your child so she can see what she is taking to camp. And give her something to put dirty clothes in so she can stay organized. To help ensure you will get most items back, provide your child with a list of all the things they should bring home from camp.

7. PLEASE DON’T SEND VALUABLES OR THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT TO CAMP: At camp, your child may get dirty or wet, or both at the same time. Clothing may get paint on it during arts and crafts or color wars, so please do not send your child’s nicest belongings. Consider going to a thrift store or sending older clothes. Also, new shoes for camp is never a good idea if you expect those shoes to come home clean. Our point is that camp is a place where your child will get dirty, so please pack accordingly. Also, leave valuable things like watches, jewelry, necklaces, earrings, etc. at home. These things can get lost, broken, or find their way into another camper's bag. Leave any special or valuable items at home, please!

8. ELECTRONICS AT CAMP: These days electronic devices are all around us. We do our best to limit their use at camp. Ipods, MP3 players, expensive digital cameras, phones, smart phones, etc. should be left at home. We understand your child may want to take photos at camp, but there is a chance that expensive camera or other electronic device could get wet, dropped, broken or end up with someone else’s stuff. Camp is NOT responsible for lost, broken or stolen electronics. We at Camp Santa Maria also do not allow campers to have cell phones. There are too many issues surrounding them for us to consider them a useful item for campers. If you as a parent need to check in on your child, call the camp office and we will go and quietly check on your child.

9. CONSIDER NOT DOING A MEDICATION BREAK: If your child is on any behavior modification medication, please talk with your doctor about the wisdom of taking your child off or changing your child’s medication for the summer. Camp is a very different situation than most children’s daily lives. There is a great deal of activity, as well as a social setting entirely different from school. If you choose to take your child off his or her medication(s) for the summer, please let camp know. A change in medications can provide us with information regarding unusual behavior at camp.

10. TALK ABOUT BEHAVIORAL CHOICES: At camp we strive to provide every child with a wonderful camp experience. If a camper makes the choice to engage in behaviors such as physical or emotional bullying, we may decide to send him home from camp. Talking to your child about the choices they have with their behavior can set them up for a more positive experience at camp. Our behavioral guidance policy is to work with kids to examine the choices they make about their behavior and how it impacts other people. One of the last things we want to do at camp is to send a child home for poor behavioral choices, and sometimes there is no other option. Talk with your child about living in a cabin setting, getting to share with others and how to talk out differences.

11. PLAN OUT CORRESPONDENCES AND PACKAGES: Campers love getting mail and packages at camp. A little pre-planning can make this go smoothly. For complete information regarding how to stay in touch with your camper via U.S. mail, UPS or Fedex, please visit our Contact page.

12. NO PICK-UP DEALS: One of the most challenging things about summer camp for parents is letting your child be away from home for an extended period of time. If you feel your child may get homesick, talk about it before camp, not on the drive to camp. The Santa Maria staff is pretty good at helping kids work through homesickness. However, if you have told your child all she has to do is tell the camp staff she wants to go home and you will come and get her, that makes it very difficult for us to help your child conquer homesickness. And if you have made a deal with your child, and he is desperate to call home because you told him he could, we are not going to make a liar out of you. In almost every case, someone from camp will call you before we call a second time to connect you with your homesick child. That way we can give you an update and let you know what we have been doing to help your child.

13. ENJOY YOURSELF! While your child is at camp, take some time for yourself and enjoy a little down time. Sometimes parents feel guilty for savoring this time without their children. We will take excellent care of your child. You can always call to have us check on your child, and as long as we have correct contact information, we can get in touch with you if there is an emergency. Go ahead and go out to dinner AND a movie, take a day trip or two, take a vacation, or just stay home and relax. You have raised a great kid, you deserve to enjoy yourself a little!