With summer camp registrations opening soon, it’s time to talk about preparing for your child’s time away from home.
Sending your kids off to summer camp, particularly sleepaway camp, can be an emotional experience for both of you. It may be your child’s first time sleeping away from home or your first time with an empty nest.
You may be anxious about not being able to communicate with your child for an extended time period or worried about how they will contact you if an emergency occurs.
Additionally, depending on where you’re from and where camp is located, there may be concerns about natural disasters or weather events. Hurricane season, for example, runs from June to November in the Southeastern United States.
These are all valid fears, and the good news is there are several ways to ease these anxieties.
We have some great advice and tips to prepare your child for this new experience. Continue reading to get advice on how to prepare your child for summer camp and essential items to pack in their camp bag.
Preparing Your Child for Summer Camp
Since there’s already a lot of general summer camp preparation advice (like what to pack, first-day reminders, etc.) available on the Internet, we’re going to focus on what we know best: disaster and emergency preparedness.
Natural disasters can be scary for everyone, regardless of their age. However, they are real; the more you and your family are prepared for them, the less threatening they will seem.
You should slowly introduce the information to your kids so that it won’t overwhelm them. Of course, use your best discretion about what conversations are appropriate with your child, depending on their age and skill sets.
Here are our recommendations for pre-camp preparedness:
1. Get them their own Grab + Go Box and teach them how to use it.
You could also make photocopies of the action plans for disasters they would be at risk for. Review the plans with them and calmly talk through the situations. Highlight useful information for them to know and use the emergency contact card in the box (more about emergency contacts later).
2. Print a map of the area.
It may be helpful to print them a map of the camp area with landmarks and nearby locations marked for easy access (even a compass for extreme situations). If they get separated in an emergency evacuation, this will help them navigate to a place where they can call for help.
Also, be sure to review the environment and surroundings with them, so they’re aware. Maybe even get to camp a day early to explore the town and familiarize yourselves with your child’s temporary summer home.
3. Teach them basic survival skills.
These skills don’t have to be anything complex; however, it’d be helpful for them to know basic skills like:
- How to swim - regardless of whether they will swim at camp, they should know how to swim if there’s water in the area.
- Situational awareness - teach them to identify landmarks and practice orienting themselves. Also, it can be a good opportunity to talk about trustworthy adults and who to turn to for help or expressing uncomfortable situations.
- What plants to avoid - show them how poisonous plants look.
4. Talk to them about what to do in specific emergency situations.
Research which natural disasters are most common in the area where your kid will be going and start having conversations about what to do if a specific disaster event occurs.
For example, for earthquakes, you can practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold” with them.
Remind your child they won’t be alone at summer camp, and there will be adults to supervise. Reiterate that they should always let an adult know if they feel unsafe or need help.
Ready.gov has interactive natural disaster preparedness games that you can use to teach younger children about different disaster events and how to build an emergency kit.
5. Build an emergency kit with your child and show them how to use each item.
An emergency kit for a kid can be very basic. However, there are a few essential items that it should add to their packing list, such as:
- Lifestraw - show them how to use it to filter water beforehand.
- Mini first aid kit - the camp will have a complete kit, but you should pack them with a basic one in case of small cuts or scrapes. Review how to use each item and when a situation might require more medical attention.
- Flashlight or headlamp - be sure to give them extra batteries.
- Compass - teach them how to use it and practice with them beforehand.
6. Give them a hand-written emergency contact list.
The camp director will have an emergency contact for your child; however, it’s always wise for them to have their own copy. In the case of an emergency and an on-foot evacuation, having critical phone numbers written down is smart. Be sure the card and ink are waterproof, and that your child knows where it is!
7. Keep conversations surrounding natural disasters positive and reassuring.
The last thing you’d want to do is scare or overwhelm your child; however, disaster preparedness conversations are important and shouldn’t be avoided. Keep the tone positive and reassure your child that they will be okay and that you’re there if they need you.
To keep these conversations upbeat, you can play games and disaster-preparedness activities. Another idea is to take them on a camping trip and teach them survival skills.