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?

20 thoughts on “Planning for Sleep-Away Camp”

    1. You can always pin the post in case that day ever comes:) Your princesses are so small that I bet the thought of going off to camp seems a bit crazy. My girls went, but only for a week to begin, and then for 2 weeks.

  1. This is a fabulous list with wonderful tips. My son went to a sleep away camp in Maine for 6 weeks. Almost everything that came back went directly into the trash. I wish I had thought to ask about bug spray, a water bottle and how best to tote things to and from a bathroom.

    1. Yes, if you are away in a messy place, the kids are old enough, just tell them to trash the shoes before they come home! The Nalgene water bottles are great because they air out quickly and are easy to fill and use.

  2. What an excellent list, Seana! You thought of everything! Most camps supply parents with packing lists, but your suggestions go beyond that for some practical advice that is never included…like how to communicate with your child while they’re away or expectations about the condition of their things when they come back home. You delve deeper than the typical camp list. Bravo!

    I relate to this post on many levels…as a camper that went (and packed for) sleepaway camp, as a parent that helped her kids pack for sleepaway camp, and as an organizer that has assisted parents to pack for their kids going to sleepaway camp. I agree that having your kids help with the process is great when possible, but that not all parents want that to happen. They often feel it will be faster and more efficient if they do it for their kids. Or they feel their kids don’t have time to do it. However, if possible, the packing together is important. It’s part of the preparation both for leaving and also for being ready upon arrival (as in knowing where your stuff is and what you have.)

    If kids are away for a month or more, there is usually “visiting day.” So if anything got left behind, it gives parents an opportunity to bring it then.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Use This Mindfulness Invitation to Better See Your ClutterMy Profile

    1. I love the point about the “visiting day.” That is a great chance to bring forgotten items, as well as take back things are aren’t being used. I sought advice from a few campers on this one to get specifics that they have learned over the years. I do agree that it seems easier to just pack for the child, but packing is one job that it is worth the effort to invest in teaching your children. It saves you a lot of work in the long run, builds their confidence, and helps them when they travel in their college and young adult years!

  3. Great tips, Seana! I always send old stuff. I figure we can simply throw it out at the end of the trip. We never throw away things some else could, use, but old underwear, old socks, half bottle of shampoo,etc. will simply be thrown away (or used up) anyway. Makes packing to come home so much easier.
    Susan recently posted…June To Do List Free PrintableMy Profile

    1. It definitely makes the packing up to come easier. Good to give your children “permission” to pitch anything that gets sufficiently ruined. Not worth putting the muddy/moldy sneakers back in the clothes:)

    1. It’s a good pin for a future date. Some children love being away all summer, some for a week and some not at all. Mine were more the “week or two” kind of girls. Still, having the right items came in handy. Never too late for sleep away camp!

    1. It isn’t for everyone, but even if you are just going away for a week, helpful to have a few “insider tips” from someone who has been there. I bet packing for travel is similar in some ways. Maybe you could do a guest post on packing for an international trip!?

  4. What a great list! I find that making your own list helps streamline how much I really need to bring. I totally agree, have the kids create the list with you. They need to know what they have so it gets returned home. I like to add a blank checklist in the luggage so when they need to pack, there’s a reminder of what they brought.

    1. Yes, great idea to put the blank checklist in with the luggage. Not only does involving the children in the packing help to make sure items come home, it also helps them know what they have when they get there!

    1. There is a lot to consider. I wish I had had a list like this when I was going through it. Love that we can help out with posts like these!

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