My son gets to go to summer camp for the first time this year, thanks to Camp Corral. Camp Corral is a one-of-a-kind summer camp for children of wounded, injured, ill or fallen military service members. Since it started in 2011 as a one camp pilot program, Camp Corral has grown over 750%. Over 17,000 children have been served and the program has expanded to 22 camps in 19 states. Although any child from a military family is eligible, registration priority is given to children of wounded, injured, ill or fallen military service members.
Leigh Longino, the COO of Camp Corral, was gracious enough to guest post today with some tips on how not just my son, but my husband and I will also be ready for camp.
Summer camp is meant to be an exciting and empowering experience for kids. It provides them with opportunities to develop their teamwork skills, practice goal setting, navigate relationships and discover nature. As the COO of Camp Corral, I have the pleasure of serving our nation’s military children by providing them with a safe and fun environment in which they find a supportive community of friends, develop skills that build confidence and gain tools for coping with the challenges they face at home.
As a parent, a heap of questions may run through your mind as you prepare to send your child off to camp. You’re likely not sure who is more anxious, them or you? Will they make friends? What if they don’t like the food? How will they know to brush their teeth? Did I even pack a tooth brush? How am I going to know what they are doing at camp or if they need me? Did I pack enough underwear? Will they wear underwear?
Whether it’s your child’s first time going to camp or they are a seasoned expert, preparation is key. It’s an experience shared by the entire family and an opportunity for growth and change. You know your family better than anyone so identifying what is keeping you awake at night and how to best prepare is important. Will it be coaching them on keeping up with their belongings or understanding how you will communicate with them on a daily basis? Who will be their counselors? Will they get homesick?
Here are five tips that can help your family best prepare for camp to ensure everyone has the best adventure possible:
Tip #1: Get to know the camp.
Visit the camp’s website. All camps love to show off what makes their camp great! Make it a family activity to watch the camp video, read the frequently asked questions and staff profiles. The more you can familiarize your child to the place they will call home for a week, the better they will feel when they arrive at camp.
Take the virtual tour; hear the sounds of the songs being sung around the campfire, notice the interactions between the counselors and the campers. Make a list of questions together and send an email or call the camp office. Believe me, they have answered every question a parent has had. This is beneficial even for returning campers.
Campers from all over the country share their experiences of what it means to be a Camp Corral camper. You can visit the Camp Corral Facebook page and read stories from our campers and parents. After watching a camp video, I promise even the most anxious campers will want to start packing their bags immediately.
Tip #2: Let your child participate in packing.
Every camp has perfected their packing list; print it off and have your child follow along as you pack. This will get them both excited about going to camp and it will also allow them to see what they are taking. Don’t feel as if you need to go buy clothes for them to take to camp. Ideally, they should pack their favorite t-shirts, shorts, caps, blankets and even underwear. Familiarity is crucial for a child when they are suddenly sharing a cabin with 12 other people who wear the same size they do. Seeing their own blanket on their bed will create a home away from home feeling starting on the first day for your child.
Write your child’s name in everything! Don’t use their initials or just their last name. They need to see their name in the dirty sock on the floor to even know they lost it.
Most importantly, don’t be concerned when they come home and only wore three of the eight t-shirts. They had fun!
Tip #3: Discuss how you will communicate with each other.
Now that you have had your virtual camp experience and packed their bags, how do you answer the question: “Mom, aren’t you going to miss me?” You get a knot in your throat and struggle for the words knowing you will miss them more than they will miss you.
This is the time to discuss communication plans and set expectations for your child’s stay at camp. Camp serves as a time to unplug, help your child know what this means and assure them that you will be able to call the camp and speak with the director if necessary. Prepare pre-addressed post cards they can send you from camp. Many camps allow parents to sign up to send emails to their campers that they print off each day and put in their mailboxes.
When it comes time to communicate during camp, keep all your correspondence to your child very positive and open-ended. This will prompt them with topics to report back on when they write you. For example:
“Lilly, when we took you to camp, we noticed that wonderful pool. I bet that has been fun and refreshing this week. Have you seen your counselor from last year? We miss you, but it brings us great joy knowing you are having so much fun in such a beautiful place. We will see you on Friday at lunch time and can’t wait to meet many of your new friends.”
Tip #4: Encourage your child to have the best experience.
Here is another question that will challenge even the best of parents: “Dad, I don’t know anyone going, what if I don’t make any friends?” Walking into a cabin and not knowing a person in the group can make even the most extroverted child hide behind their parent’s back. The magic of Camp Corral is that every child there has something in common.
Remind your child that they will be able to share stories and experiences with their cabin mates that they aren’t always comfortable sharing at school. The counselors will facilitate teambuilding activities and they will make memories with new friends that will last a lifetime. Help your child learn ways to introduce themselves to new friends. “Where are you from? What grade are you in?” Have you been to camp before?” “I’m a little nervous to go on the zip line, will you go with me?” Believe me, when you drop them off at camp, they may be crying to leave you, but when you pick them up, they will be crying to leave their friends – it’s a wonderful thing!
Tip #5: Take time for yourself.
Every year we get wonderful letters from parents saying that they knew their child would have a great time at Camp Corral, but what they didn’t know was how much they would enjoy the time spent reconnecting with their spouse, and/or extended family and friends. If your children know you are having fun, they will have fun. If they see that you are excited about what you will be doing while they are at camp, they will be excited to allow you that opportunity. Then you can all share your “camp stories” on the ride home.
Continue to remind yourself that camp helps children grow by providing them a well-supervised, positive camp experience in an environment that is both natural and safe.
When families are prepared for a stay at camp, the experience is better for everyone. Your child will benefit from the memories, supportive relationships and skills they’ve gained. They’ll also learn that it’s okay to be away from home and that they can have fun while doing so!
These are just a few tips to make the transition from home to camp easier for everyone. The most important thing to remember when preparing for camp is to make sure that your child understands that they can have an open and honest conversation with you about getting ready for camp.
Leigh Longino is COO of Camp Corral and has 20 years of experience in camp programming and operations. She has served in various positions within the YMCA managing program development, risk management and staff development. Leigh has two daughters who actively attend camp in the summer.