Insider Summer Camp Prep Tips That Will Change Your Life

It’s that time of year again! Time to load up on your bug spray, sunscreen, and stamps, and ship those kids off to overnight camp. Whether you are a first-time camp parent, or an experienced one, packing your child to be away from you in a different environment can be daunting. Don’t worry, I got you when it comes to summer camp prep. I am a trifecta of camp knowledge. I’ve been a camp counselor, so deep in the nitty gritty day-to-day of camp life with children. I also currently direct a week-long camp during the summer so I’ve seen the big picture stuff. And I am a parent who has sent her kid to camp, so I know the worry of making sure they have everything they need. 

Let’s dive in! ←—see what I did there?

Summer Camp Prep: Prepare Your Kids

boy and girl stand in front of summer camp trunksGet your kid involved in packing.

I know, I know, it would be so much easier to just do it for them. They won’t put things in the right place, they will argue about what to take. They won’t like the shirt you picked, etc. But, hear me out. Getting your child involved in the packing process is step one in them eventually packing themselves. And if they are independent enough to go to camp they are independent enough to help pack. The real benefit of this is that you can go over everything your child might need, and they know where everything is in their packing apparatus so they can find it later when they are at camp and you aren’t there. 

Practice doing things independently before camp.

Depending on the age of your child, they may still need some assistance with things like brushing hair, teeth, washing hair, or putting their swimsuit on. If there is anything your child still needs practice to do independently, do that before they go to camp. Their counselor will have several other kids to keep track of, their week will go smoother, and they will feel more confident with the ability to do things on their own. 

Summer Camp Prep: Packing

Label everything. And I mean everything.

Yes, the clothes, but also goggles, water bottle, shampoo, fans, shoes, and medication. If it belongs to your kid and you have any hope of having it returned to them when they leave it at the pool, then put their name or initials on it. Doesn’t have to be fancy, use a Sharpie. Also, see above for getting your kid involved in packing. It helps your kid to possibly find said goggles if they know they are the blue ones with their initials on them. Children are walking trails of lost stuff. They WILL lose it. That said, if you don’t care about getting it back, don’t bother. Which brings me to…

Don’t send things to camp you really care about or expect to get back.

Assume that every single thing you send with your child will be dirty, lost, or broken by the end of camp. My mom loves to tell the story of the first time they sent my brother to camp, he came home with his toothbrush at the bottom of his trunk. Never once used it the whole week. Kids are so gross. But really, camp is messy. That’s part of the fun. One of my favorite activities we do at camp is called paint tag, where we divide into teams, throw paint at one another, and the most represented color wins. Don’t let your kid be the kid that has to sit out of something fun like paint tag because they are worried you will be mad they got paint on their shoes. 

You don’t need to buy a trunk, unless you want to.

This will depend on the rules of your specific camp, but unless those exist, you do not have to buy an adorable steamer trunk and have it monogrammed. You just don’t. Large plastic storage tubs work just as well for transporting your child’s belongings. Suitcases and duffle bags can work too. Use what you have. You don’t have to buy fancy new stuff for camp. See previous tip. 

Sort all of your child’s clothing into bags for the day.

This is my number one tip I tell every parent. Take all of your child’s clothing and sort it into daily bags labeled with each day. So, shirt, shorts, undies, socks, etc. for each day, and put the complete outfit in a ziplock or other bag. Write “Susie Monday Clothes” on the front, and then repeat for every day they are to be at camp. Your kid’s counselor will love you. Why? Because they don’t have to spend ten minutes helping your kid find socks every morning while also trying to get eight other small children dressed and ready for breakfast. Your child will also not have to empty the entire contents of their suitcase on the dirty ground in search of said socks. Daily clothing bags. They are a game changer.

Send a backpack they can carry easily.

If your kid’s backpack is too big, hot, straps hurt their shoulders, etc. They will not carry it. And then they will try to carry their swimsuit, goggles, water bottle, friendship bracelet they made in arts and crafts and snack all together without a bag, and their counselor will hate their life. Also your kid will lose their stuff. So bring a backpack they can carry comfortably. Many kids carry smaller sport backpacks rather than the type they may wear to school. Find what works for your child. And then write their name on it.

Bring an insulated, wide mouth water bottle. 

Summer is hot. Texas is extra hot. Your kid will need to drink lots of water at camp. And you know what people hate to drink? Warm water. So pack an insulated water bottle to help keep their water cold. Also, be sure it has a wider mouth, so that ice can be easily added. This was a huge deal when I was a camp counselor. If a kid’s water bottle was a pain to put ice in, we would just skip it. It’s what you end up doing when you have a line ten kids deep who want ice in their water bottles. Get a good water bottle. Label it. I also recommend one that is leakproof if possible so that it doesn’t spill all over their backpack when they put it in there. 

Pack their shower things in a caddy so they can just grab and go.

Having all of their bathroom items in one place makes life so much easier, whether they are walking ten feet to the bathroom or have to hike up a trail. Get a plastic shower caddy and put all of their stuff in it. Shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss {yeah right!}. Pack it up in the caddy and then pack the whole thing in their suitcase, trunk, or tub. Then when they arrive they just have to grab and go. This also helps keep everything in one place so they don’t lose things two days in and just stop showering. 

Summer Camp Prep: Communication

mother and son stand in front of bunk beds in camp cabinIf your child is likely to wet the bed, pack an extra change of bedding and let their counselor know.

Camp counselors have seen this over and over, trust me. Your kid is just one of many. Packing an extra set of bedding helps them to change the bedding discreetly, and take the old set to be washed. Otherwise they may have to raid the camp stash of bedding and it just gets a bit more complicated to do without kids seeing you and asking nosy questions. Communicate this plan to both your child and their counselor, so everyone is aware. Also be sure to tell their counselor if your child won’t speak up if they wet their bed, so they can check in the morning if needed. Few things are worse than a urine-soaked bed marinating in the summer heat. 

If your child has a sensory, diet, medical, or other need, communicate that and make a plan.

The camp that hosts us currently has a beautiful but incredibly noisy dining hall. We tell this to parents in the event that their child may struggle, and offer options like earplugs, or eating outside if needed. If your child needs white noise to sleep, is sensitive to light, gets overwhelmed in crowds, etc. communicate their needs and ask how it can be accommodated. It will make everyone’s lives easier and your child will have a better time. The same applies for things like food allergies, picky eating, or special fears

Plan for mail, and send stuff for the whole cabin if you can.

Plan your mail ahead of time! If the camp will let you, I recommend bringing all the mail to drop off with you, labeled properly with your child’s information, and the day of the week to give it to them. If that is not allowed, start mailing things 2-3 business days before drop off, so mail arrives soon after your camper does. If you wait too long, you may miss the window and all of their mail will get there after they leave! Also, to be a rockstar parent who helps their child make camp friends, send something cool in their mail that they can share with the whole cabin. Glowsticks, poppers, water balloons, etc. 

Last thing. It’s important, trust me.

When they get home…..

Open their bag OUTSIDE. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, open that thing in the car. It is a moist, warm, concoction of dirt, wet clothes, possibly food, and sweat. The smell may be like nothing you’ve ever experienced since you used a frat house bathroom in college. Open that bag outside, let it air out for a while, and then sort things directly into the trash or laundry, respectively. You’re welcome.

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Lindsay G. was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and she and her husband headed south to Spring in June of 2016. As a clinical social worker, she works full time with families growing their families through adoption. Lindsay met her husband John when they were both camp counselors. They welcomed their future little campers G in December 2017 and R in 2020. Lindsay is constantly reading, researching at least one new thing, and attempting to organize her life through bullet journaling. Her first book, Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness will be published in November 2021. In her free time, she enjoys binging Gilmore Girls on a loop, baking, and running in the Houston area’s beautiful parks. Check out her website for parenting prep, support, and more.


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