Dear parents/guardians of first-time campers,
We hope that you are excited for your child’s first summer at Camp Pembroke, Camp Tel Noar, or Camp Tevya! With camp getting closer, many families begin thinking about how they can best prepare their child for the overnight camp experience. We’ve developed this collection of recommendations as a discussion guide for working on the newfound responsibilities and independence that comes with a summer away from home.
As you help your child prepare for this summer, please let us know if any questions arise. We love to hear from our camp families and want to be a part of getting yours ready for an incredible summer experience!
Help Your Child Get into the Camp Mindset
Camp presents children with many new opportunities and situations. A good example of this will be living in a bunk with 10-14 other campers in a shared space. Your child may have their own room at home and can create personal space just by shutting a bedroom door. At camp, everyone will be living in a cabin with other people 24 hours a day, and this requires a new mindset. We recommend that families talk about how everyone can work together to foster a happy living situation in the bunk. Remind your child that bunkmates are likely at times to walk into their area or want to sit on their bed. Sometimes bunkmates borrow other camper’s belongings and forget to ask. Campers who are not used to cleaning up after themselves will be asked to do so. Meals and snacks at camp can be more restrictive than meals at home – food is served at certain times each day and is based on a set menu with likely fewer options than at home. These are important things to think about as you all get ready for camp.
Get Ready to Unplug
Camp is a gloriously tech-free space, and it might be challenging for your camper to adjust to this environment. Consider designating an hour a day in the months and weeks leading up to camp as “tech-free.” You can consider starting with less than an hour a day, or even going to more than an hour each day. A side benefit is that you as the grown-up get some screen-free time too! Encourage everyone in your family to disconnect and enjoy face-to-face interaction, board games, reading, or playing outside. Technology can serve as a self-soothing mechanism for many of us spending time at home, and designing some other self-soothing mechanisms that campers can turn to at home and at camp will be beneficial. Examples of these meaningful alternatives include art, reading, journaling, card games, letter writing, etc.
Make a Plan for Personal Responsibility
Camp will be a fun adventure this summer, but it also requires that campers take on more responsibility than they might at home. We recommend that new campers practice making their bed without being reminded by parents. We also recommend that campers practice putting away dirty clothes, shoes, athletic equipment and toys, and hanging up wet towels as soon as they are done with them. It will be each camper’s responsibility to know where their belongings are this summer. Lastly, it’s a good idea for new campers to get used to showering and brushing their teeth without a reminder from mom or dad (even though our counselors will be reminding them during the summer!).
Adjust the Nighttime Routine
Bedtime at camp is likely to be a bit different than bedtime at home. Before bed, our campers have time to brush their teeth and shower after a long day of running around. Some campers might not shower every night before bed at home, so make sure they are aware of this practice at camp. Lights Out for 3rd-6th graders is 9:30pm, 7th-8th graders is 10pm, and 9th-10th graders is 10:30pm. For some younger campers, 9:30 could be 1-2 hours later than they’re used to at home. Spend some time (as your schedule allows) getting them adjusted to a later bedtime schedule.
However, camp does not always follow the same bedtime schedule, especially if we have a special evening activity like 4th of July, Banquet, or a nighttime trip. If your family is used to a fairly regular bedtime routine each night (reading a particular book, listening to certain songs, etc.) make sure to vary it a bit in the weeks and months before camp. Our counselors will be there to put our campers to bed each night, but not always at the same time or the exact same way. It’s good to get used to a little bit of variety. We are always happy to talk through any concerns about nighttime or falling asleep. Camp activities = tired kids, so we often find campers have an easier time sleeping than they might expect!
As part of varying the nighttime routine, we recommend scheduling some sleepovers with friends, cousins, or grandparents. Though camp is different from a sleepover, it can be helpful to spend time practicing being away from the comforts of home. The upside of doing this is that you get to be with someone you enjoy spending time with! A good way to practice being at camp is to have a couple of sleepovers at friends’ houses and also at a relative’s. Most campers find that with each sleepover, being away from home gets to be much more fun.
Please note that if your child is not ready for sleepovers, or doesn’t have a successful night away from home, it does not mean that they aren’t ready for camp! Many campers never sleep over before their first summer, and they go on to be incredibly happy members of our camp community.
Practice Writing Letters Home
Campers are asked to write home three times a week. Parents often tell us that their campers don’t say much in their letters (“Dear Mom and Dad, Camp is fun. Love, Becca”). Parents want letters from camp to tell them all about the fun adventures and the friendships their children are making. It may sound silly, but we recommend practicing writing letters from camp while your child is at home.
After a sleepover, or while on vacation, have your child write a letter that talks about the different things they did during a finite period of time. Ask them to do their best to explain what they enjoyed and experienced during this time. Then take some time to go over what they wrote and how it will relate to letter writing this summer. In our experience, children always do better when they know what is expected of them, and have time to practice. Working on this skill before camp should make writing letters home much easier during the summer.
Create a List of Questions to Reduce the Unknowns
Most of our campers (and parents!) think of lots of great questions before their first summer at camp. We recommend keeping a piece of paper on the refrigerator and labeling it “Questions About Camp”. Whenever a question comes up, write it down. When your family thinks that the list is long enough (or even if it’s just one question), send us an email or call us in the Cohen Camps Office. We LOVE hearing from families during the year and would love to answer each and every one of your questions. You can reach us at 781-489-2070.
Work on Self-Advocacy
This summer is going to be an incredible experience of growth, fun, and excitement, but we also know that there are going to be some bumps along the way. It can be hard for some campers to let adults know when they are having a tough moment. Encouraging your child, and equipping them with the skills to share, even when it’s hard is so important! Campers should know that they can always share with their counselors, Head Counselors, Department Heads, and any of us if they are having any difficulties, even if the issues are really, really small. Small issues can become big issues if left unresolved! If we don’t know about them we won’t be able to work on them.
Our recommendation is that you discuss this concept with your children while participating in an activity that they enjoy. While playing a game or putting together a Lego creation, remind them that part of camp will be sharing their thoughts and concerns with someone other than you (and not waiting until they write you a letter that prompts you to call the office.) Role play a typical low-level situation, like being hungry before bedtime, wondering when a favorite activity will be offered again, or needing more toothpaste. This should help your camper prepare to do this on their own this summer.3
Help Pack for Camp
We bet that you are going to send your child to camp with some great stuff – it’s important for them to know what is in their bags! As much as it may lengthen the time it takes to pack, please try and include your child in this process. It will go a long way towards helping them become more responsible for their own belongings. Make sure that they know what their raincoat looks like, how many pairs of shoes they are bringing, and what cool stuff they should be keeping track of this summer.
For many new campers, preparing for the summer is more exciting when they are involved in buying/gathering the stuff that they will want or need. Our advice is to involve your child in searching for a small number of items that get them excited. For some it’s a really cool flashlight or an outfit for Shabbat. For others it’s a couple of silly spirit items to wear during Color War, or a poster to hang on their wall above their bed. Picking out 2-3 or accessories can really raise your child’s enthusiasm, and lower their precamp anxiety.
Get Familiar with Some of our Camp Names and Faces
Since you are now members of our camp family, we want to make sure that everyone in your home gets to know some of the people who run your camp – our Leadership Team. Be on the lookout for information about any offseason community events or gatherings. These informal get-togethers are great for meeting other new and returning camp families, as well as members of the Leadership Team. We strongly encourage every new camp family to attend our New Family Orientation in the Spring.
We are your partners and look forward to working together to create an amazing camp experience for your children! If you have questions, comments, or would like schedule an offseason meeting, please contact us: