Summer camps can be some of the best experiences in a kid’s life. A chance to play hard, meet new friends, experience a little freedom from mom and dad, and escape from the ordinary Summer boredom routine. Despite all the amazing ways camp is meant to be an enjoyable experience sometimes there are kids who just aren’t prepared for the experience. As a student Pastor, I have been taking students to summer camp and on mission trips for over 14 years. As you can imagine, I have seen it all. Kids have shown up to camp without their sleeping bag or any form of soap. Yikes! I’ve had students tell me they didn’t know they had to bring a Bible to a Church retreat. My staff has waited over an hour for parents to pick up their kids after a mission trip because of a forgotten pick-up time. I don’t mind it, because it’s my calling, but I have learned that intentional preparation helps ensure Summer Camp or Mission Trips run smooth for everyone! Are you sending your son or daughter to camp this summer? If so, here are five tips to help your child have the best Summer camp experience.
1. Know the details AND share the details
Most great ministries and camps will have excellent communication sent out before camp. Read it all! Knowing the details of your kid’s event should be priority number one. More importantly, be sure to pass along all of the information to your child. Our sixth grade son loves to know the schedule before he arrives at an event. It helps ensure he has everything he needs, it passes on responsibility to him and gives him peace of mind. After reading through and discussing all the details, write down any questions you still have and reach out to ask the appropriate person to get more information.
Extra Tip: If possible, download a map of the campground and look at it with your child. Knowing the different areas of the camp will help them feel comfortable getting around.
2. Discuss Safety and Rules
I can tell you, as a leader, I am doing everything I can on my end to ensure we have a safe environment for students and counselors when we go off to Summer camp. Unfortunately, as in all areas of life, no plan is 100% foolproof. Therefore, I encourage parents to have conversations about safety with their kids before leaving for camp.
Remember to talk through all the rules. Kids may never want to admit it but they thrive and appreciate age-appropriate boundaries. Preparing your child for camp or an overnight event requires clear communication about the rules. Download and discuss the rules set by the organization hosting the camp. Also, remind your child of your family rules. Consider having your kid sign a contract to acknowledge that they understand the rules. This can make communication very clear.
The big thing to tell your kid is, “If you feel unsafe or see something that doesn’t seem right, say something!” Additionally, help your child identify a trusted adult or staff member that they can approach with questions or concerns they may have.
Talk through tough scenarios. Use hypothetical scenarios to help prepare your kids for tough situations. For example, ask your child: What would you do if you saw another camper breaking a rule? OR What should you do if you feel uncomfortable with another camper or a leader? What should you do if another camper tries to sneak out or asks you to sneak out?
3. Set Expectations
Parents, one of the most significant ways you can help your son or daughter have a fantastic experience at camp or any summer event is to talk to them about expectations before they leave. Knowing the details and discussing safety helps set these expectations. Begin by asking your child what their expectations are for their own experience. Sometimes kids have some wild expectations. Talking through their expectations will help clear up any incorrect assumptions about what may happen.
Try asking these questions before you child leaves for camp. What do you think camp will be like? What is the scariest thing about going to Summer camp? What new things will you try at camp this year? Do you have any questions about what will happen at camp?
Set your own expectations or hopes for what you want your child to experience and learn. If your child has behavioral challenges or special needs/requests, be sure to communicate those details with the camp staff. Staff members are eager to help your kid have a positive experience. Keep in mind there are typically hundreds of other kids attending camp so be patient in working with any staff as they work to figure out what’s best for all the campers. Be open minded when communicating these things with a willingness to offer additional help or establish a plan for success.
4. Pray Together
As a staff, we spend weeks praying for our students and our summer events. We know prayer matters, and God certainly answers prayer in ways we see and in ways we cannot see. Join your church in praying for camp and summer events. Pray for the leaders to have wisdom with their decisions and to have great conversations with your kids. Pray that students would treat each other well and that God would use every aspect of the event to grow your child.
5. Celebrate After
The biggest miss I see a lot of parents making when it comes to significant events like camp is simply moving on to the next thing. Don’t miss the opportunity to sit down with your child after camp and ask some intentional questions. You can not only learn a lot about what they experienced, but you can encourage them and continue partnering with the Lord in your child’s faith development. Camp or Mission Trips can be a big highlight so leverage that to build healthy faith habits. We send our families a resource with ideas and questions to ask after our events. Reach out to your local church for ideas, and they should have some!