Planning for Sleep-Away Camp

sleeping bag

Summer is full of many wonderful opportunities. One that many children experience is sleep-away camp. If your child heads away for a week or more, there are often a lot of details that need to be coordinated. For a successful summer, keep these tips in mind.

Tips for Sleep-away Camp

Involve Your Child

  • Don’t do all the packing for your child. It is important that he/she be a part of the process.
  • Allow your child some say in what they take. They might prefer to sleep in sweatpants as opposed to the cute pajamas they wear at home.
  • Have your child put the items in the suitcase (or at least help.) This will make it easier for them to remember what they brought. If you wish, include the packing list so that children will be able to easily know that they’ve repacked everything for the trip home. It is a good idea to keep this list in a “packing” folder on your computer.


Less Is More

  • Start with the Camp’s Suggested Packing List.
  • Don’t send items that camp says to leave at home (e.g. cell phones, video games) as they may be taken away, which can upset your child.
  • Pack a few pieces of various layers (e.g. underwear, socks, t-shirts, sweatshirt, fleece, warmer coat.) Most parents pack too much clothing.
  • Ask if hats and gloves or other colder weather gear could be needed.
  • Send a good rain jacket (waterproof vs. water repellant) and boots.
  • Focus on moisture-wicking clothing as opposed to cotton.
  • Ask if there is any dress code or specific clothing requirements.
  • LABEL every item you pack with a Sharpie (silver Sharpies work well for dark clothes).


Send Old Stuff

  • Pack old clothing instead of something new or special.
  • Send old towels that can be trashed if there are irreparably damaged.
  • Always try to send shoes that have been broken in vs. shoes that are new. You don’t want your child to start off with blisters.


Ask About Laundry

  • Ask the camp about how laundry will be handled. Often, if the child stays for more than a week, the camp will wash a child’s clothing. Be aware that no special treatment will be given to garments, so send items that can handle a basic washer and dryer.
  • You may need to pre-pay for laundry service.
  • Provide your child with a laundry bag for dirty items.
  • Send along a few plastic bags for wet bathing suits.


Understand the Accommodations

  • Are there drawers to unpack in or will the child be living out of a suitcase?
  • Is there space for a trunk or is it better to have a duffle?
  • Should you pack sheets and blankets or a sleeping bag?
  • Will they need an alarm clock?


Start Packing Early

  • You will accumulate needed supplies over a period of weeks, so establish one place where everything can be placed until departure time.


Check out the Medical Policies Well in Advance

  • Almost all camps will require a medical form. Late spring is a busy time for pediatricians, so ask as early as possible, and be prepared to pay a small fee for this service.
  • Be sure to get a list from your pediatrician showing the dates of all vaccinations
  • Put together a list of any medications your child may take, including dosage and time of day. Be aware that some states (e.g. New York) require a doctor’s note for all medications, including over-the-counter meds. Leave yourself (and the doctor) time to put these materials together.
  • If you send medications, leave them in the original containers with original labels.


Think Hygiene

  • Ask the camp how most children carry basic items to/from the washroom and shower (e.g. a bucket, shower caddy), or if they can leave items in one place for the duration.
  • Consider a hanging bag to hold toiletries that you child can hang from a nail or rail in the cabin.
  • Send extra hairbands for children with long hair – they are easily lost
  • Pack enough refills and supplies to last for the duration (e.g. razor blades, feminine hygiene, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.)
  • Pack all liquids in plastic, zip-top bags.
  • If your child will be gone all summer, send nail clippers (and make sure your child can use them).


Send a Few Helpful Supplies

  • An empty water bottle
  • Bug spray
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Hat
  • Bandana
  • Beach towel and bath towel
  • Small bag for excursions (like a string backpack)
  • Flashlight with batteries
  • Notepaper and pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes
  • A sentimental item from home, but not their favorite thing that they would be sad to lose or have damaged.
  • A disposable camera


Ask About Spending Money

  • Check with the camp in advance about how much spending money a child will likely need (e.g. for crafts, snacks, excursions, etc.)
  • Ask if the child will have an account (into which you place money in advance) or if they should bring cash.


Minimize Homesickness

  • Don’t linger around when it comes to drop off. This makes it hard for the child to disconnect. Offer a positive, happy “have a wonderful time” and make a quick departure. Consider leaving a few notes for your child to open throughout their time away (e.g. “Open Wednesday” )
  • Send lots of letters, but don’t talk about how much you miss the child. Instead, use phrases such as, “Look at how grown up you are being away – wow!”
  • Avoid talking at length about things that are happening at home that might make them sad to be away. Instead, mention the mundane elements of life and silly stories that will make them feel secure, but not pine for home.
  • Don’t pressure your child to write and share details. They may be busy and you don’t want to add guilt to their other emotions. Express interest to hear about their experience, but offer a, “Don’t feel pressured to write if you are busy” as well. Ask the camp if they will post photos or videos online during the session. This can be a great way to get details from a source other than from your child.
  • Check on the camp’s policy about sending care packages. Can you send food? Toys? Do they prefer that parents send letters? Emails?


Manage The Back End

  • Most likely, items will come home wet and dirty as children scramble to get it all together before pick-up. Don’t expect a child to pack neatly or put items back into specific locations in a suitcase.
  • Be sure to have some extra clean underwear and socks at home for their return. You may also need another pair of sneakers.
  • Ask your child if there was anything that they wish they had brought but didn’t, and add it to your packing list for next year.
  • Have something fun planned for the family to do together in the week after camp.


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Heading off to sleep-away camp can be an enriching and growing experience for your child. Plan ahead and stay cool to maximize the experience for everyone.

What’s your best tip on packing for summer camp?