Tips for First-time Overnight Campers and Parents


We know it’s only the end of January, and it might seem crazy to write about summer camp in the dead of winter, but we know preparing for overnight summer camp is something that happens months in advance.

We spoke with a few camps to get some advice for first-time campers (and their parents) to help you prepare for what’s ahead.

Help!: Do you have any tips for first-time overnight campers?

Margot from Camp Tamakwa:
For any first-time campers that might be a little nervous about going away, just remember two things:

1. You are not alone. Being a bit nervous is totally normally and chances are, there are a lot of new campers, and even quite a few returning campers, who get a bit nervous as camp approaches. Of course, you should be excited about the adventure and fun that awaits, but if sometimes you also get a bit scared, that’s ok too. It doesn’t mean you should turn and run and cancel your plans of going to camp.

Pushing past those butterflies is exactly what camp is about. Pushing yourself a little outside your comfort zone, doing something new and exciting and, yes, a little scary, is exactly what makes you a stronger person. Once you get there and start having fun, you will be so proud of not only going to camp, but doing it without your parents beside you!

2. Bring a taste of home. Camp is an incredible adventure filled with non-stop fun. You get the freedom to play outside all day without your parents telling you what to do (listening to your counselor is way better than listening to your parents) and you get to play with old friends and hopefully lots of new ones in the process.

But, just because you are having an awesome time at camp, doesn’t mean you might not miss home from time to time. So, make sure you bring a picture or two and lots of writing materials. Writing letters home is a great way to reflect on all the fun you are having at camp and also make you feel like your parents are listening right beside you!

Mari-Beth from Camp Wabikon:
Be happy, be friendly and be adventurous! You have been given an amazing opportunity. Your camp can’t wait for you to arrive! The first couple of days are designed around getting you familiarized with camp life.

If at any time during your stay you feel less-than-awesome, tell somebody. Your camp and its staff want you to be happy and enjoy every moment of your time there!

Peter from Kettleby Valley Camp:
It’s normal to feel nervous about being away from home for the first time. Homesickness comes and goes in waves, so try to stay active and occupied to keep your mind off of the things you miss.

Remember, nothing at home will change during your time at camp. Everything will be there when you get back. But, you’ll change. You will be more confident and capable of facing the other challenges that may come to you in the future.

Henri from Camp Kirk:
My advice to any first time overnight camper would be, insist on being part of your parents research, and if you can, be there with your parents when they visit the camp director and don’t be afraid to ask any question or to voice any concerns YOU may have about going to an overnight camp for the first time.

Craig from Centauri Arts Camp:
Make a list of questions and concerns ready for when their counselor calls a couple of days before their session begins. If they have other questions, have them call or e-mail the camp office.

If they know what to expect, they are less likely to be homesick and more likely to have fun.

Help!: What advice do you have for a parent who is sending their child to overnight camp for the first time?

Craig from Centauri Arts Camp:
Discuss camp with your child. Look at photographs on the website, go over the structure of the typical day and familiarize your child with what they can expect. Let them know that foods may be different from what they are used to and bedtime may be earlier or later!

Help prepare campers to be adaptable; balance this with exciting stories of all the new experiences awaiting them. Let your child take charge of preparations for camp. Shop together for supplies and pack together. If your child has never had a sleep over, try to arrange one or two, so that they feel more comfortable leaving home for short periods.

Be optimistic and excited for your child. If you have concerns, share them with the camp, not with your child. And – never look upset when leaving your child. First time parents are encouraged to call on the second day to find out how their child has settled in and to write regularly! Younger children look forward eagerly to mail time. A short letter or postcard every day is a terrific confidence boost!

Henri from Camp Kirk:
My advice to any parent sending their child to an overnight camp for the first time would be; arrange a time when you and your child can go and meet the camp director or his/her representative and have your questions ready in advance.

Coupled with this, I would advise parents to be up front with the camp director about all and any special needs and/or concerns they might have about the child.

Peter from Kettleby Valley Camp:
As a parent, if you are hesitant about the experience, it’s likely that your child may sense this and feel anxious. Developing independence is critical to a child’s self-esteem. Keep this in mind if you begin to have second thoughts about your son or daughter’s first camp experience.

Mari-Beth from Camp Wabikon:
Be positive! You’ve done your research and chosen wisely. Now you and your camper can get excited about this amazing experience! It is natural to be nervous about a first-time adventure. You will help your camper start off on the right foot if you project positive feelings leading up to the first day of camp!

Margot from Camp Tamakwa:
Make a list of goals about what you want your child to get out of the camp experience. Do some research on your own, before involving the kids in the process. Also, pick up the phone and CALL. Prepare questions ahead because it’s easier to compare camps if you ask a few similar questions.

You can learn a lot about a camp just by speaking to a director. If they are the people running the camp, you’ll get the best feel for what the camp is all about and the values they attempt to instill. Many camps will make home visits or schedule a few open house events during the off-season.

Sending your child away is a daunting decision and something that should not be taken lightly. Take your time and make a choice that feels right for you but most importantly, right for your child.

Not every camp is the same but, in general, sending your child away to overnight camp is truly one of the greatest gifts you can give them and an experience that will change them for the rest of their lives. They will grow, they will mature, they will make new friends, they will learn how to live with others, they will learn how to tackle some of life’s challenges on their own, they will gain soft and hard life skills you never thought possible and most importantly, they will HAVE FUN!


Keep informed with all our camps coverage and find the perfect day or overnight camp by searching our Toronto & GTA camps directory.

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