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Preparing for Sleepaway Camp: Here’s What You Really Need to Pack

summer camp spelled out in colorful letters

Heading to sleepaway camp is likely to be one of the most exciting events of your child’s summer, but it can be one of the most stressful, too. This is especially true for younger kids who will be enjoying their first time at sleepaway camp. But any child will be off-routine, and may be prone to sleepaway camp anxiety, and homesickness.

In addition to having long conversations about how to survive sleepaway camp, a little preparation goes a long way towards making sure your child’s summer camp experience is positive throughout. And a lot of the work of preparing for sleepaway camp will be centered on making sure he or she feels connected to you and the rest of the family the entire time.

Here’s how to prepare for sleepaway camp.

The Boring But Necessary Bit

Remember when your parents used to sew labels into your clothes?

Who’s got time for that now?

Still, your child needs to be able to find all his underwear. And permanent marker won’t get it, at least, not if you don’t want the “label” to wash out.

The solution? A hot glue gun and some printable labels get everything neatly marked without eating half your day.

Your Super-Parent To-Pack List

 Now let’s talk about what you’ll want to pack to make sure your kid has a blast.

For Homesickness

children playing outside at sleepaway campAdd these items to your child’s duffel to avoid tearful calls from the front office.


Letting your child take his or her favorite stuffie to camp is a risk. There’s always the chance the one toy he or she can’t sleep without, the lifelong, constant companion, could end up lost or stolen.

Instead, why not pick up a few smaller stuffies that share a “species” with the favorite? If it’s a large bunny, for example, you can pick up two smaller ones. The little ones can be the children of the big bunny, or the little sisters and brothers, or the friends. Either way, they’ll go while the Favorite stays home.

If your kids are really little you might even bring the Favorite to see them off: Mom and Mommy Bunny are saying goodbye to all their kids at the same time. Don’t forget to label the stuffies, too!

A Small Photo Album

Pick up a new, small photo album, one which won’t take up a lot of space. Then, fill it with pictures from home.

Your child can pull it out and look at the pictures whenever he or she starts to feel lonely.

Memory Makers

boy using binoculars at sleepaway campOne way to ward off homesickness is to get your kids excited about sharing all the memories he or she is making. Consider picking up a small disposable camera so he or she can document some rockin’ summer camp adventures.

Slightly older kids might enjoy recording their experiences in a blank journal complete with decorative pencils and colored erasers in fun, funky shapes. The “fun” supplies help avoid a situation where your kid feels like you’re assigning homework. Noting what happened can make your children feel connected to you even if you won’t get to read the journal right away.

As a bonus, your child will be less likely to forget anything he or she really wants to tell you!

To Build Anticipation

The more excited your child is about going to camp the less likely he or she is to fall apart once there. Adding some fun items to their bags can help with this one.

For example, what could be more fun than glow sticks for the campfire? Kids really look forward to breaking those out and waving them around during an event that’s already tons of fun.

You can also help kids keep track of when things are supposed to take place. Countdown the days to summer camp with a small calendar and a fun sticker book. As a bonus, they can take the calendar and some different stickers with them, and then use them to countdown the days until they have to say goodbye to their camp friends.

Practice in the backyard!

Mail Never Fails

boy eating smores on stick at campfire at overnight campMaking sure your kids get mail is one of the best ways to help with homesickness. It makes them feel remembered!

If you’re in a hurry, you can just grab a few postcards. Use them to write a letter to your child at camp so they get something on mail day. You can slip a couple of self-addressed, stamped postcards in their bag so they have something to send back too (without forcing them to spend precious pocket money). Or, our discounted greeting cards are always a good choice!

If you’re feeling ambitious and the front office allows it, try a care package! Here are a few overnight camp care package ideas. These work for tweens, too! Grab a beautiful box to make it special, and fill it with any of the following:

  • Small toys
  • Puzzles
  • Bouncy balls
  • Silly putty
  • Balloons (including regular balloons, punch balloons, water balloons, or animal balloons)
  • Bingo cards. Make sure there are enough to play bingo with the other kids in the cabin!
  • Drawing materials
  • Extra paper, pencils and erasers

Want to add food? Consider including something homemade in a pretty container, or wrap it up in decorative cellophane. One twist of a twist-tie and you’ll be ready for super-parent status. (If you use a box mix to save time, we’ll never tell).

Don’t forget to fill the box with tissue paper and packing shreds to make sure nothing gets damaged.

Why all this stuff? Don’t we have cell phones now? Can’t they just text?

In many cases (in most cases, even) going to sleepaway camp really is like stepping back in time. There are rarely any cell towers nearby. That’s why you have to get a bit creative to comfort and contact your kids.

But why fight it? This is part of the fun. Do it right, and the steps you take to make your kid feel happier and more comfortable at camp might just be one of the things they remember most about it when they’re older.

Come on down to Paper Plus at 1629 San Pablo in Berkeley and we’ll help you prepare your family for a summer of fun!

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