Sleepaway Camp: Pack It or Leave It Home?
So your little baby is going off to sleep-away camp — it’s a life-changer that every kid should experience at least once. But before you fill that trunk or duffle to bursting, here’s what camp owners and experts wish you would pack — and what they really, really wish you would leave at home.
Whatever Is on the Packing List — That list isn’t a suggestion. “If the camp is asking for it, there’s a reason,” says Barbara Reich, a Manhattan-based professional organizer with a booming sub-specialty of packing kids for camp. The one exception is sports gear. Though the packing list may include all the equipment needed to participate in the summer’s planned athletics, better camps will have everything necessary for a newbie to get in the game, says Ross Moskowitz, owner/director of Camp Westmont in Poyntelle, Pa. But if your child does have said gear, pack it, please. And definitely pack cleats, rackets, baseball gloves, and other more personal items.
Extra Essentials — “Counselors love when kids are low maintenance. So, a kid who comes with lots of essentials is a favorite,” says Reich. Essentials include extra underwear, plenty of shampoo, enough toothpaste, and especially socks. “I tell parents all the time: You can never have too many socks,” says Moskowitz.
Everything With Labels — Have you ever seen two tweens wrestle over the same SIGG water bottle? It’s not pretty. Reich highly recommends labeling everything your kids bring with them to camp, from clothes to shoes to sports equipment. “Labels keep fights to a minimum.”
Smart Storage and Organizers — Your child will probably be allowed basic open shelving to store their stuff. Camps — and especially the counselors tasked with making sure your child keeps their area neat — love when you send plastic bins and drawers that are versatile enough to tuck into any nook and keep cubbies tidy. Extra storage also makes everyone’s life easier. Reich loves this under-bed chest.
Decorative Flair — Homesick kids are unhappy kids, and a personalized space can make them feel more at home. Moskowitz loves walking into a bunk and seeing sports and pop-star posters; hanging sports equipment (great for extra storage, too); pictures of parents, grandparents, and siblings; and other creative decor. “I wish I could see more of that,” he says. Other things to consider are stick-on mirrors, vinyl wall decals, and a sturdy, small-area rug that’s perfect for adding a bit of coziness to an otherwise sparse setting. Not all camps allow decorative touches, so check to see what’s acceptable.
Low-Tech Fun — Extra bunk games like jacks, cards, and Mad Libs are highly appreciated, says Reich. “They also like when you send magazines like People, Star, Glamour, and Sports Illustrated that can be passed around the bunk.” Casual sporty things like Frisbees and Nerf balls are great for free play, and don’t forget to send plenty of stationary and stamps since phone time is typically limited (Bonus: Some extra summer writing practice).
Secret Snacks — Once upon a time, bunks were a bastion of squeeze cheese and Rolos. Not so much now. “Leave the gum and candy at home,” say Reich. “They attract bugs and rodents in the bunk and no one wants that.” There’s also the serious issue of allergies and food intolerances, says Moskowitz. “You have to be very careful of that.”
Anything With a Video Screen — “We want every camper to have an unplugged experience,” says Mosowitz, voicing a sentiment most camps share these days. Although his camp has an official no-screens policy, some families don’t get the message. “You always have some who try,” he says. Don’t be those people. Leave the smartphones, game consoles, and tablets at home.
High-Value or Sentimental Items — When camps say no expensive items, they mean it. “We often tell parents that they shouldn’t pack anything that they wouldn’t mind someone accidentally stepping on,” says Jeff Grabow, owner of Camp Echo in Bloomingburg, N.Y. That goes for clothing, too. Grabow’s campers only wear T-shirts with the camp logo during the day to avoid “silly, competitive dressing,” he says. “It’s camp, and not a fashion show.” So lose the jewelry, pricey yoga pants, family heirlooms, cash, or anything else of high value. Otherwise, they become things at risk of being ruined or stolen.
Too Much Stuff — “Really, the issue at most camps is parents panicking and overcompensating by over-packing. If a parent happens to forget something, we are not located on the moon,” Grabow says. Despite camp leaders’ warnings, some kids still come with way too many things — “Your head would spin,” Moscowitz says — much of which they regret and end up sending home on visiting day. So do yourself, your child, and everyone at the camp a favor and remember that enough is good enough. Plus, one of the joys of summer camp is wearing the same things again and again without being told by Mom to change. Do you want to deprive your kids of that fun, if filthy, experience? We didn’t think so.