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The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Getting Your Kids Ready for Sleepaway Camp

Summer Camp Parenting

When sleepover camp rolls around, there is so much I look forward to for both my kids and myself. I am excited for my kids to get off their electronics, see their friends, get fit, try new things and become more independent. And for myself, I am thrilled for some time alone with my husband and the freedom to wake up and do whatever the heck I want to for seven whole weeks.

Having been a camper my whole childhood, then a counselor for many years and now an experienced camp parent, I put together a true ‘camp insiders list’ to help you prepare your kids (and yourself!) for sleepover camp. Whether this is your first summer as a camp parent or what may feel like your hundredth, I hope this list helps you feel organized and ready to say, “See you soon” to your sleepover camper this summer.

Getting Your Kids Ready for Sleepover Camp

The worst part of sleepaway camp is the extra time spent packing, throwing in ‘a quick load’ to get clean and maybe matching socks, and of course the dreaded trunks! If your kids went to camp last year, hopefully you washed everything when they got home and now all you need to do is get the clothes together. If you are a new camp parent, you can’t sit tight because you have a lot more to do!

  • Don't Over Pack - Every camp gives you a different packing list. Some things seem too low (a week of underwear), while others seem too high (5 sweatshirts). Just be smart about it and think about what your child really needs considering their laundry will be done once a week.
  • Camp Branded Gear – I would not go crazy with buying everything they suggest on this list. Focus on just the requirements. Also, if you have a boy and a girl like I do, I recommend buying gender neutral stuff so you can hand down from one kid to the next.
  • Don't Send Good Stuff - I have learned the hard way that the kids are not going to come home with everything they bring. My son probably comes home with 60% while my daughter is more like 90%. Therefore, do not go out and buy high quality, cute stuff, it’s just not worth it. Instead send your old towels, flashlights, water bottles, etc. that you don’t mind losing.

 New Campers:

  • If you are a new camp parent and everyone is telling you that you need to go to these fancy New York camp places and get your child's name sewn into socks and monogrammed onto trunks please DO NOT feel like this is a requirement. Save yourself a lot of money and just order a $20 sleeping bag from Amazon and a $50 trunk from a site like Campmor. Your child is not going to be an outcast because he or she doesn't have a pretty trunk...seriously!
  • If this is your child’s first year and they are younger, please think long term with your packing. My daughter was so excited to pick up a comforter that had emojis all over it her first year as a camper, and now she is a bit older and begging me for a new comforter! Use your camp parent judgment and help your kids pick items that will grow with them instead of out-growing them.

Products to Buy:

  • My friend Emily was a HUGE help with teaching me how to pack for my kids. She got me into using these Jumbo XL Ziplock bags to pack with (you can find them on Amazon or Target). I used these to separate different items in the trunk and keep things more organized, and since they are clear, you can see everything. I reuse them the next year... if they actually come back in the trunk!
  • Labeling is very important. After trying everything out there, my two go-to label tools are a silver Sharpie, because it can be seen on black, and this Name-Dropper stamp that has seemed to hold up well on the kids’ clothes. 

Some Fun Stuff to Pack:

  • Family photos are a nice thing for the kids to have.
  • I print out address labels for the people I hope my kids will send letters. This makes it super easy for them and gives them no excuses for not writing!
  • Deck of Cards - No camp experience would be the same without a deck of cards. I have amazing memories of the game Spit and BS! My son said he used his cards more than his iPod Shuffle.
  •  A Little Arrival Gift - The last thing our kids need are more presents I know, but I started doing this their first year and I know they love it so much. I always wrap a small gift and put a note in their trunks so when they get to camp it is waiting for them on their bed. This year I am doing this dart board pillow game that looked cute (comes in camo, too) (Shhh!!). 

Packing for Summer Camp

My husband, Brian, and I planned a few things to make sure our kids were super comfortable going to sleepover camp. Since we took the time to prepare them, our kids were very easy with going to camp and made it less stressful. 

  • We took our kids to family camp at the sleepover camp they were going to attend. If this isn't possible, another thing you can do is visit the camp prior to the start of camp so your kids know where they will be going and will feel comfortable with their surroundings.
  • Introducing them to a friend in their age group beforehand so they can be greeted by a familiar face and not feel intimidated or anxious about making friends or feel alone at the beginning.
  • Lots of sleepovers. Get them used to being away from you overnight. 
  • Make sure they can do everything on their own. My daughter was only eight when she went her first summer. I wanted to make sure she could do her hair, fold her clothes, and knew how to put on bug spray. The counselors baby the little ones, so she would have been fine not knowing. However, I think the confidence she built learning how to do these things on her own helped her feel more comfortable going.
  • Your kids feed off your energy. If you are nervous about this experience they are going to be nervous, too. If you aren't truly that thrilled they are leaving or worried how much you are going to miss them, they are not going to be as excited and are going to miss you. Remember this experience is for them and their growth and development. 

This is also the time for you to start thinking about how you want to spend this alone time. The time is going to fly by, so use it wisely. And remember, no cooking and laundry and cleaning up after the kids! It’s seriously crazy how nothing in the house moves while they are gone. I highly recommend taking advantage of your free time.

Camp Parent To-Do List:

  • Take a trip! I was super nervous to do this my first year both kids were at camp. However, this is your one shot each year to go somewhere without kids. If you can financially afford it (on top of sending them to camp), I highly recommend getting away, even if it's a short trip or a getaway close by.
  • Get together with friends you have not seen in ages. I don’t know about you, but by the time my kids were of camp age a lot of time had gone by without seeing old friends. Summers with the kids gone have created the perfect chance to reconnect with friends.
  • Decide which chores you have not had time for and make a list. Last year my goal was to clean out the basement but I ended up putting it off.
  • This is also a great time to finally be spontaneous and go out to a late movie on a weekday, for example. But no matter what you do, just remember now is the time to decide what you most want to do without the kids around. You have no excuse!

Jamie Ratner is the Founder & CEO of CertifiKID and proud camp mom to Lila and Noah. 


CertifiKID was founded by a mom with a passion for helping parents provide the best experiences for their children on a budget. From outings to adventures, classes to camps, theater to sporting events, amusement parks to getaways, CertifiKID provides the best family-friendly experiences at unbeatable prices. Sign up for family-friendly deals in your area and start saving!