In our connected digital world the idea of your child going off the grid can be terrifying. When I went to church camp, in the dark ages, there were no cell phones or even local numbers to call. There was a camp phone in some cabin or office that could be used only for emergencies (i.e. heart attacks, compound fractures, death). We didn't post happy pictures of kids at camp. We took pictures with disposable cameras and then developed pictures of rocks, trees, and our thumbs.
In many ways, not much has changed. Cell phone service is spotty at camp because it's camp and camp is not in town. This means phone calls may or may not be able to get through, using the camp phone is still really for emergencies (can you imagine if every parent called once a day?), and pictures may or may not get posted.
I have kids, I want them to be safe, but we all have to learn to let go and let them have fun at camp. As a dad and camp veteran I want to give you parents some tips to help your child succeed at church camp. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of ways to help your child (and you) survive...
- Tell them they'll have fun, because they will. Camp is planned out so that every minute of the day is full of fun and learning. We keep them busy so they don't get homesick. You'll probably miss them more than they miss you, and that's a good thing. So, set them up to succeed and tell them what a great time they'll have!
- Don't tell them they can come home early! If you want to come pick up your child on the first day, tell them they can come home early. When a child is told, "You might not like it and you can come home," they will come home.
- Don't expect a call from your child. The rule of thumb is this, if a child calls home they'll go home. We have counselors and deans (most of whom are parents) that help kids focus on the fun instead of missing home. Usually, "I miss mommy" fades when they say, "I want to zip-line!" But, if they call home and hear mommy's voice they can't recover. This is why we won't call home unless it's an emergency or a case of homesickness that can't be cured.
- Don't visit unless you want them to come home early. (See number 3 and multiply it by a million.) If you come, just bring your child home because that night they will cry. They didn't cry the night before, but now that they've seen you they'll cry. Don't do that to them, to the cabin, or to the counselor, the camp dean, or the nurse (several of whom will sit up with them until 1:30AM). If you want to come to camp, volunteer and stay the whole week.
- Pray for your child and the faculty. Jesus and coffee that's what keeps your camp staff running. They need prayer because they are at camp with a couple hundred kids and you are at home having a week of date nights with your spouse.
- Send them cards. Getting mail is fun and we make them do funny things to get it. Kids like to hear from home and know that they're missed. You can normally send up your mail with the church.
- Trust the camp staff and their rules and their judgment with things like Advil. When you get that waiver before camp sign it and check off everything you feel comfortable checking off. Let the nurse decide if they need antibiotic ointment, don't make them call you for every scrape.
- Don't send them with prank supplies or scary stories. Pranks are not fun, seriously, ever. I'm a fun guy and I like a good joke, but when a kid's entire wardrobe gets soaked, or they get scared and can't sleep all night, it's not fun. Kids don't sleep enough at camp which means they're sensitive, whiny, and sometimes mean. A fun prank will be revenged and that revenge will not be sweet. Pranks turn into prank wars and it's a nightmare. Don't do it!
- Remember no news is good news. Your child's camp counselor should be attentive to your child not their phone or social media. Do you want them to text you pictures or pay attention? That's all for this one.
- Volunteer to come and help. We always need help, especially men, so if you've got some vacation time, a clean background check, a heart for kids, and you love Jesus, join us!
Alright, so that's the rules, here's a packing list for your kids.
- Look at the weather and pack accordingly! Pay attention to the evening temperature if they're going into the mountains as they'll probably want a jacket and jeans.
- Pack enough clothes for everyday of camp plus one. This gives them a backup just in case they need a new shirt, pair of shorts/pants, underwear, or socks.
- Pack spray sunscreen! I hate spray sunscreen, but if your kid can't reach their back (and they can't) I don't want to have to rub sunscreen on your kid plus 100 of his best friends. Send the spray and we'll make sure they get the sunscreen.
- Pack a flashlight. Not an expensive Maglite, just a dollar flashlight. Kids like flashlights and they'll get to use them at camp.
- Put an extra pillowcase on their pillow. Tell them to take it off after the first night and stuff it with dirty clothes.
- Write their name in everything you want back. They will leave a shirt or something at camp, it will happen, I've seen the camp lost and found. So, write their name on whatever has to come back home. Also know that every kid to and from the shower drops their underwear and is too embarrassed to pick it up. We always have a zillion pairs of Spiderman under-roos left over that belong to "Not me."
- Pack a swimsuit and towel. They will swim, so make sure they're comfortable. If your child needs goggles then pack those too.
- Pack bedding and include a sheet. A sleeping bag is great for the winter, but in the summer a light sheet might be all they want.
- Put all the toiletries in a big ziplock bag. Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. all need to go in a ziplock that they can carry to the bathroom. Inevitably some kids comes with his arms full of toiletries and then drops his toothbrush...gross! I make the boys in my cabin shower every other day (it is camp) and want them to use soap.
- Don't pack medication, give it to the nurse. Medication goes to the nurse, even if your daughter is responsible she'll be running, having fun, and will quickly forget to take her medication.
- Get this to all fit in one suitcase or duffel bag that they can carry/wheel. They're kids, their clothes are small, it will work. If it doesn't seem to fit go back to #2 and see what you've overpacked.
One final word, my grandmother pulled a dead frog out of my uncle's shorts after camp, so just expect things to be gross when they get back (especially if they're boys). So, when your kid gets home just empty their entire bag into the washing machine and tell them to hit the showers. Then listen to them as they tell you all about their great week of camp, if they haven't already done so on the ride home.