We’re so excited to kick off a two-part series that’s all about summer camp — and we think no matter the age of your children, and whether or not they’ve been to camp before, that you’ll find it helpful and encouraging! We spoke with Carter Breazeale, camp director for Alpine Camp for Boys in Alabama, about sending a child to camp for the first time, what to bring, what to expect, and so much more. Carter’s family founded Alpine Camp for Boys more than 50 years ago, and she grew up in the “camp world” — bringing with her a unique perspective as not just a camp director, but also a former camper and mother. Our hope is that you’ll feel more prepared and confident if you’re sending your child to summer camp this year by reading through what Carter has to say! Scroll down to read tips for sending children to camp!
Today we’re asking Carter all about preparing to sending your child to camp, and in part two we’ll discuss arriving at camp and how to navigate being away from your child for a week (or longer). So be sure you’re signed up to receive our emails so you don’t miss that post!
What is the number one piece of advice you tell parents before sending their children to sleepaway camp for the first time?
I always want parents to remember what an incredible gift they are about to give their child! It can feel overwhelming when the time comes to send your child off to camp, but long after that camp trunk is emptied you will continue to see the gifts of camp unpacked for years to come. Camp life is so much fun and they will learn all kinds of new skills. But more importantly, it teaches a child independence, how to make friends and resolve conflict apart from their parents, gives them lifelong friendships, instills confidence, and so much more! You may be nervous about sending your child off for the first time and worried you will be “homesick” for them. But remembering why you are sending your child to camp can help put everything in perspective!
What kinds of questions should parents ask the camp when preparing for camp?
Ask the camp if they are accredited. If they are accredited by the American Camp Association, this indicates that the camp has undergone an incredible amount of assessment and is following the guidelines in place by the association that include everything from health and safety standards to counselor/camper ratios. The American Camp Association has a helpful website and you can search camps to see if they are accredited. If the camp is not accredited you can ask questions about their ratios, what kind of medical care is in place at camp, etc.
Wherever your child goes to camp, ask questions about their staff. How are counselors hired? What is the interview process like? What is involved in staff training? What is their staff and child protection policy? Those are important questions that will give you peace of mind.
Any habits children should have before going to camp? Or skills parents should practice with them?
We sent our twin daughters to camp for 25 days after second grade. When they were in first and second grade they were so excited about getting to go to camp themselves! They kept asking when it was their turn to go, so we made a checklist as a family of things they needed to be able to do by themselves. The list included things such as cutting your own meat, tying shoes, and brushing hair. Any camp counselor will of course help a camper with any of these things! But the point is to help them to become more independent and gain confidence by being able to do these things for themselves. It is important that your child can follow instructions given by another adult and that they are able to take care of their basic hygiene. (Their counselors will give friendly reminders!)
For nervous or homesick children, what strategies do you recommend before and during camp to help?
The biggest thing is to reassure your child that everyone can get homesick — campers, counselors, and even camp directors. I often tell our campers that my dad started a camp and was a camp director for many years, and even he was homesick when he was a camper. Remind them it is okay to miss home. And that the best thing they can do is tell their counselor about how they are feeling. There are things the counselor misses about home, too! And they want to help their campers in any way they can.
A few practical things you can do: Make a calendar. Your child may be going away for a week, or even as long as a month. To a young child, that can sound like forever. Making a calendar helps them realize they will come home at some point. If a child is anxious about being away for a long time, you can start to mark off opening and closing day, mark off Sundays as they are special days in camp, mark off the last few days of camp and other special events, and before you know it they’ve crossed off a ton of days!
Have your child make a list of everything about camp they are looking forward to — for example, the water zip line, making new friends, or riding a horse for the first time. This will help them begin to associate positive feelings with camp.
Sometimes, as parents, we need to be reminded that we may get “homesick for our kids.” Rest assured that the camp directors and staff know how to take care of your child! They know that it is good for children to be heard and they also know they need to get moving and involved in activity to start moving forward.
It is really important that everyone at home who is a part of sending the child off to camp is united in a positive way about camp. It can be very confusing to a child if one parent is very excited and supportive of camp and the other parent is not. You should not make a pick up deal with your child. If a child knows their parents will come get them, they can never truly settle into camp since the option of going home is lingering with them. Of course if your child is really struggling, you and a camp administrator would discuss if a pick up does indeed need to happen.
Any packing do’s or don’ts?
Your camp should supply a packing list. It’s a great idea to print this off and let your child be a part of the packing process! My girls loved making a big trip to Target or Walmart! Getting to pick out their shampoo, fun letter writing supplies, and other items was a treat and it also helped them take ownership of their camp experience. It can also be helpful to ask a friend who has been to your specific camp before about what they may want to pack that isn’t on the packing list. Each camp has their own traditions and it can be helpful to know if you need to pack Fourth of July attire, camo clothing for an all-camp game, or other special items. And don’t forget to label EVERYTHING!!
Any favorite camping supplies? What is one item every camper should have?
If you need a trunk, Everything Summer Camp carries my favorite trunk line. They come in all different colors and also have great trunk accessories.
Mables Labels is wonderful for camp and school clothing! We also use sharpies or paint pens to label anything from flashlights to flip flops!
Crazy Creek chairs are a camp essential! They can be used for sitting by a campfire or on a cabin porch. You can find them at most outdoor stores or your camp may even sell them with their camp logo!
Headlamps are great for having two free hands while roasting s’mores and reading before bed!
Camp tip: Camp supplies make great gifts, especially for their first summer! Check out your camp store to see if you can purchase camp t-shirts and other items to put under the Christmas tree, wrap for a birthday present, or surprise them on their last day of school.
Thank you, Carter for sharing these great tips for sending children to summer camp!
About Carter Breazeale: Since 2006, Carter Breazeale and her husband Glenn have served as Directors of Alpine Camp for Boys atop Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama. Carter grew up at Alpine, which her family started in 1959, and after working many summers camping and on staff at Camp DeSoto for girls, as a counselor and later on administrative staff, she returned to Alpine as a second-generation director. She and Glenn have twin daughters who love living on the mountain year round.