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What Your Kid Should Pack for Summer Camp

In many parts of the country, it’s traditional for kids to spend a week or two—or even a month or two—away at summer camp. Each camp provides parents with packing lists. However, some of them aren’t regularly updated or are provided by idealistic camp directors rather than real families. In addition to the basics, here are some things experienced parents say are essential for kids to take to sleepaway camp:

  • Fewer clothes than you think: Yes, your kid will need basics ranging from shorts to rain jackets. However, when they’re away from home, most kids wear a few of their favorite clothing items over and over. Help your kid pack enough so they can deal with different kinds of weather and have enough clothes to make it to wash day. But don’t overdo it.
  • Replaceable items from home: A stuffed animal for comfort is great. Just make sure it’s not your child’s one-and-only lovey—in case it gets lost or damaged. Photos of family members, friends and beloved pets can also help cheer up homesick campers.
  • Helpful gadgets: Consider sending your child with a battery-powered clip-on book light (flashlights get awkward to hold), a clip-on fan for some fresh airflow and disposable cameras for taking pictures.
  • Shower helpers: For simplicity, give your camper a bottle of all-in-one body wash/shampoo/conditioner. A small water-friendly tote is great for helping campers schlep gear to the shower. Sew small loops (ribbon or bias tape works great) on towels and washcloths to make them easier for your camper to hang them in the shower room and near their bed to dry.
  • Zip-top bags: They’re great for storing items like cards, camp keepsakes and other items in your child’s bunk area. Larger bags also come in handy for keeping a change of clothing dry when your camper goes on kayak trips.
  • Spending money or debit card. If the camp allows it, it’s nice for your camper to be able to buy items at the camp canteen or in a nearby town, according to the American Camp Association (ACA). The Greenlight card may be safer for campers than cash and prepaid debit cards. Why? Cash can be lost, stolen or spent outside of your agreed-upon spending plan. Campers can’t withdraw cash or get cash back from their Greenlight Card. And if your child loses a prepaid debit card, it’s as good as losing cash. If your child’s Greenlight card is lost or stolen, you can quickly lock it and block purchases.
  • Postcards, paper, pre-addressed envelopes and stamps: Most camps now have a “no electronics” policy. This means your child may not be able to bring a cell phone to call or text you. This can be a great thing. Not only will your phone-free child be able to focus more fully on camp activities, you may also receive a few of those beloved, old-style letters from camp!

One last tip: If possible, have your camper all packed two full days before they leave for camp. This packing tip is borrowed from travel writer Rick Steves. Advance packing gives your camper some time to really relax before taking off for camp. It also gives both you and your child a couple of bonus days to remember any last-minute items you’ve forgotten to pack!

(photo courtesy © Camp Pinewood cc2.0)