Two of my boys were at an overnight camp all last week: dropped them off on Sunday and picked them up on Friday. I had no real qualms about it back when we signed them up but as the date of their camp got closer and closer, I started to worry.
Though, they not only survived their first overnight camp experience, they both loved it and are already talking about going back next summer. Here are some things we learned from this summer’s experience:
Overnight Camp doesn’t have to be expensive.
Let’s get this one out of the way first since cost determines if it’s something we can do at all and everything else really doesn’t matter if we can’t get over this one. Only two of my three boys went to overnight camp because it was the third’s turn to fly (all by himself!) to spend a week with my family. We timed it so camp and that trip would overlap.
But, with sending two kids(8 & 11), we did get a sibling discount. There were also scholarship and other assistance programs available. Though, back when I first started looking into overnight camps, I was seeing a lot of programs around $1,000 for the week per camper and many that were much more.
The camp my boys went to was through a YMCA. We toured it ahead of time and it was a typical overnight camp: in the woods, cabins that were pretty basic (though they had air conditioning, because this is North Carolina we’re talking about), a lake for kayaks, canoes, and rafts, fields, picnic shelters, ziplining, low ropes course, high ropes course, archery, bb guns… pretty much what you’d expect of a camp.
My oldest was there for the Stride/Girls on the Run program and my youngest for the soccer program, which was a more expensive week than if they’d gone for the “regular” weeks of camp. For the week, combined, we paid less than $600 with the sibling discount. Had we sent them a different week instead of the special program weeks, we would have paid less than $500. And while that’s not pocket change, I’ve seen specialty day camps around here charge $200-300/week per camper. Plus, we could register early on in the year and make payments all the way up to a few days before camp. So, camp might be more affordable than you think: just be sure to do research and definitely check to see if a YMCA within reasonable driving distance has an overnight camp program.
Your kids are going to forget something.
I’d say go over the packing list several times, double and triple checking to be sure you have everything, but we did this. And yet, one of my boys still managed to leave his swim trunks at home. I actually handled the majority of the packing for my boys (and labels like Mabel’s Labels are fantastic for marking everything that is theirs) but I did ask my boys to go bring me the books they wanted in their bags and their swim trunks that had been hanging up in the bathroom from their dip in the pool the night before. Somehow, my oldest forgot and I just assumed he’d listened. Thankfully, we realized this before we left the camp and there was a store about 10 minutes away where we picked up a pair for him. The camp had said that if the campers needed anything, they would go get it and charge our account for it, so I guess he probably would have been okay had we not realized it. Unless you forget some absolute must-have item (like medication), don’t worry too much about it- either the camp will take care of it or someone will share or your child doesn’t actually need it in the first place.
Your kids won’t use everything on that packing list.
Like all the pairs of underwear. Or soap and shampoo. I washed all their camp stuff the day they got home (because it all smelled) and I’m pretty sure there were only four pairs of dirty underwear between the two of them and that the shampoo and body wash hadn’t been used at all. Still send everything, but accept that hygiene might not be high on their list of priorities and just make them take showers the second you get them back home. And those “just in case” items probably aren’t things they’ll actually need- but you’ll still feel better sending them anyway.
You might not hear from them or see pics while they’re gone.
One of the overnight camp counselors set up a Shutterfly Sharesite for the camp. And the first three days, wrote this lovely recounting of their day… but then nothing the rest of the days. And while there were pictures, my boys either weren’t in them or I’d catch a glimpse of one in the background(oh, there’s the back of his head- he’s alive!). On the last day of camp and then just this morning, another counselor added more pics and I thought OH, LOOK, IT’S FINALLY MY KIDS.
In all of the emails about camp, there was this line: “Studies by the American Camp Association have shown that calling home is detrimental to the development of your child’s independence, and can create or aggravate serious homesickness.”
Though I know friends whose kids have gone to other camps have been allowed to send emails to their kids every day and the kids could write back, we didn’t have this option and part of me knows my boys would probably write “Mom, having fun, bye!” and be done with it anyway.
It was clearly stated that no campers were to have cell phones. We were given the camp counselors’ cell numbers and told we could text (or call, but text preferable) if we wanted an update on our camper. I actually took the approach of they’d call/text if something is wrong and I didn’t text, even though it was odd not to hear anything from/about my kids for so long. My boys said that a lot of the other campers actually had theirs with them and I’m a little bummed mine didn’t (we’re rule followers) because I would have liked to be able to text them AND for them to be able to take some pictures.
Somethings never change.
My boys came home singing songs that I immediately joined in with and they were shocked that I would know them. But certain camp songs, games, activities: they’ve been around forever and aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Pranking other cabins and spooky ghost stories still happen, too. And the kids will make good friends and have all sorts of stories to tell you.
Ask right away what they’d do differently next year.
Whether they saw something they wish they’d gotten to do or something they wanted to do more. Or if there’s another session they’d like to try. I made sure to ask my boys what they wish they’d packed that they didn’t have. They said more snacks (even though I sent them enough to feed a small army), shower shoes (they said the floor of the showers was gross and THAT is why they barely showered- not sure I believe them, but we’re try shower shoes next year) and silly string (to prank other cabins- we’ll have to see about that)