A young girl in a purple swimsuit with gold stars plays on a beach during an Ottawa summer camp stay.

Tips for How to Pack and Prepare for Sleep-Away Summer Camp

Sending your child to an overnight summer camp requires some thoughtful preparation.

You need to pack appropriately, but you also need to prepare emotionally for the time apart this summer.

If you dread saying goodbye, remember that there are many benefits to sending your children to summer camp.

If your child is too young for overnight camp, consider taking them to an all-day Ottawa summer camp. Day camp can be just as beneficial as overnight camp, and allow you to plan for some family fun together this summer since you won’t have to say goodbye for longer than a day!

We’ve put together a few helpful tips to help you and your children get ready for a sleep-away overnight camp this summer. Let’s take a closer look:

Pre-Camp Checklist

Book a Doctor’s Appointment

If your camp requires any sort of physical checkup before your child can attend, book this appointment immediately after you receive the camp medical forms.

Other parents will also be booking appointments for their kids at the same time, so it’s important to book yours before it’s too late.

You might need to send in the signed medical forms before camp starts, so send them in as soon as possible to avoid any delays or any chance of missing out. If the camp asks for hard copies of medical files, store the requested medical information in a camp folder to hand in to camp on the first day.

Research the Camp

Visit the camp’s website with your child to view photos of the camp’s setting and accommodations. This helps give your child an idea of what to expect when they arrive at camp, such as where they will sleep, and helps prevent unpleasant surprises or anxiety brought on by uncertainty.

If your child is used to taking baths, make sure they see that camps only have showers, and make sure your child is comfortable with showering and washing their hair on their own.

Label ALL Belongings

It’s important to label all your child’s belongings before packing them. Labels help if anything gets misplaced in the hustle and bustle of camp. A label means a greater chance of finding a missing item after the fact and a successful return if anything gets lost.

This also helps save time when your child needs a hat in a hurry, or when it’s time to pack up as camp comes to a close.

For fabric items, use iron-on labels with your child’s name printed on them. For other items, use a permanent marker to legibly print out a name.

What to Pack

Overnight summer camps in Ontario should provide a packing list of outfits, toiletries, and equipment kids need. This list should help you decide what to pack, and what to leave at home.

What to Leave at Home

Part of the packing list should contain a list of what you cannot pack. This could include any medications without prescriptions and certain (or all) types of food.

Most camps also ask that kids don’t bring electronics to camp, such as cell phones, electronic games, and MP3 players. Camp promotes an unplugged lifestyle with face-to-face interactions and an appreciation of nature. So it’s important that your kids don’t get distracted with electronics while at camp.

Other items the camp may suggest you avoid packing include jewellery, money, and valued possessions.

While you might be tempted to sneak in your kid’s favourite portable video game, this could end up hurting your kid’s ability to settle into camp well. Your kid might think they are above the rules, which will end up causing problems with counsellors and peers at camp.

And if you pack something that the camp explicitly asked you not to pack, then you could get your child in trouble, causing embarrassment.

Don’t worry about your kid being underprepared if they can’t bring something to camp. The camp will be well prepared to take care of your kid.

What to Bring

For an idea of what to bring to camp, the camp’s packing list might include the following items:

  • A sleeping bag, or sheets and a blanket
  • A pillow and pillowcase
  • Towels and swimwear
  • Comfortable clothes that can handle getting dirty
  • Quick-drying long pants
  • Clothing for hot, cold, and rainy days
  • Sturdy lace-up shoes and rain boots or waterproof hikers
  • Rain boots and closed-toe shoes
  • Enough socks and underwear
  • Hats, sunglasses, and waterproof sunscreen
  • Toiletries
  • A life jacket for your child’s size and weight
  • A flashlight
  • Books
  • Quiet, compact games
  • Musical instruments
  • Costumes for skit night
  • Stationery, pens, and stamped and addressed envelopes

Duffel bags work well for camp luggage since they can be easily shoved under a bed in a crowded cabin.

Have your child help you pack so they can recognize their belongings.

Create a list of everything you’ve packed and pack this list as well. When your child needs to pack everything before leaving camp, they can go over this list with their counsellor to make sure nothing gets left behind.

Also consider packing a nice, encouraging letter to surprise your child when they unpack at camp on their first day.

Preparing Emotionally

Sleepover Test Runs

To help prepare your child for sleepover camp, they should become accustomed to sleeping away from home without you. Arrange for sleepovers at friends’ and relatives’ houses well before the start of camp.

Your child will see that sleepovers are fun and that they are capable of surviving without Mom and Dad around, at least for a single night.

Prepare for Homesickness

Tell your child that it’s normal to feel homesick while away at summer camp and that most kids at camp will feel the same way.

Ensure your child knows that they are strong enough to handle it, and the feeling will likely pass before they know it. Make it clear that they can always talk to their camp counsellors for help feeling better.

What’s more, if you start to feel some separation anxiety of your own, don’t let it rub off on your children. The more you emphasize how much you’ll miss them and the bigger a deal you make out of it, the greater the likelihood they’ll pick up on your behaviour and attitude.

It’s okay for parents and children to miss each other, but it shouldn’t stand in the way of an exciting adventure like camp!

Keeping in Touch

While some overnight summer camps have a no cell phone policy, some allow kids to email their parents every day. Each camp’s communication policy differs, so it’s important to be aware and inform relatives of this policy too.

You might be able to send a letter, but no packages, or perhaps kids are encouraged to write letters and postcards home. Regardless, keep the message light and fun. Avoid details that could make your child homesick, such as a family outing.

And again, no matter how much you miss them, this is their moment to shine and have fun! Instead of framing things in terms of how much you miss them, try mentioning how excited you are to see them and hear about everything they’ve been up to.

Reframing things in a positive light goes a long way and can convey just how much you care for your children.

When preparing your children for sleep-away summer camp, always stay positive and focus on the fun experiences and new friends they’ll make. As much as you might worry about how they’ll feel being separated from you for a longer period of time, by the time your kids get home, they’ll likely miss their camp friends and life!