Send Summer Camp Chaos Packing!


According to the American Camp Association, 10 million American children will attend camp this summer. Will yours be among them? The concept of summer camp has changed a great deal over the past few generations. Parents like you are busy preparing their children for experiences ranging from classic camp activities like swimming and arts & crafts to entire specialized camp programs for tennis, music lessons, weight loss, computers, entrepreneurship, performing arts and more.

If you’ve ever spent the last few days before your child leaves for camp in a frenzy, rushing around to get everything on the camp’s “required” list and fighting with your child over whether a beloved video game (and all 15 pounds of electronic accoutrements) really belong in the duffel bag, you may be dreading preparing for camp this year. Instead of spending your last few days together in a chaotic combat zone, follow these tips for you and your child to have a more serene pre-camp experience.


FOLLOW THE BUDDY SYSTEM—Get your child involved in the process.

If your children are old enough to sleep away at summer camp, they’re old enough to label their names in their clothes and help you organize and pack their belongings.

Review the camp’s packing list together to determine what you might need to purchase, gather together, wash, repair or otherwise grab to ensure you are following your child’s camp’s required items. Every camp has different regulations regarding what is (and is not) allowed in terms of belongings and behaviors. Think of this as similar to going on a trip to a foreign country-you certainly don’t want to run afoul of the Customs Agent (that is, the camp director) and risk starting your child off on the wrong foot.

If your child’s camp has not sent a list of suggested or required items, or if you’ve lost the list and time is getting short, peruse some of these links for suggested packing lists to help get started:

Campers Packing List—National Camping Association, Inc.

Boy Scout Troup 80 – Mentor, Ohio

Summer Camp Handbook Ultimate Packing List (in Two Parts) and

Next, ask your child to list what else is absolutely necessary for him or her to bring along to feel safe, comfortable and cool. It might not occur to you that your child feels too old for matching PJs, for example, and would rather sleep in a T-shirt and sweatpants.

Finally, discuss your child’s fears and concerns about attending camp, and then ROLE-PLAY how different items you’re packing can help solve those problems. If your first-time camper is sometimes afraid of the dark, help him practice using the flashlight at night while still at home. If your teenager is worried about making new friends, ask her which of her possessions (like a photo of her gang at school or her junior varsity sweatshirt) gives her a good sense of self-confidence, or help her select an intriguing conversation starter to hang in her cabin.


BE PREPARED! Watch the DO’s and DON’T’s of summer camp life.

The key to organizing for summer camp is taking everything you absolutely need (to satisfy requirements and your child’s comfort level) and nothing that is unnecessary or forbidden. Follow these tips:

    • Go item-by-item through the master checklist you’ve put together (the combination of the camp’s list and your child’s additions) to make sure you own what you need. Make TWO copies of the list. Use one for checking items off as you pack them; enclose the second copy so that your child can check things off as he or she packs to return home at the end of the summer.


    • Purchase anything you need but don’t have, but avoid buying all new clothes, because camp activities are rough on clothing. Similarly, shop and pack for comfort, not style; unless it’s a specialized camp, the only dressy clothes your child might possibly need are for religious services or a camp dance, and the camp’s instructions should provide guidelines in that regard.


    • Have your child help collect each item (shirts, shorts, bathing suits, bedding, etc.), and lay everything out on the bed as in an assembly line and then check it off the list.


    • Don’t pack anything on the camp’s FORBIDDEN list–like gum, food or video games. Likewise, avoid sending anything valuable like jewelry that could be lost, stolen or damaged. Aside from the insurance and financial headaches, your child’s summer would be ruined by pangs of guilt over losing something of value. Summer camp is a perfect opportunity to free yourself and your from the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. A disposable waterproof camera is a better bet than your fancy digital, and probably easier to use.


    • When it comes to toiletries, send as few items as possible. Products that do double-duty as shampoo and body wash are especially helpful. Teens may balk at not bringing every hair- and skin-care product they use as part of their daily regimens, but remind them that time and space for using and storing these items will be severely limited. Also, be sure to double-bag liquid toiletries with one zip-lock upside-down inside another to prevent spills.


    • DON’T OVERPACK! Allow your child to take only what he or she can carry. The counselors and camp staff will expect your kids to carry their own backpacks or bags, so make sure Junior can do so before setting out. When choosing camp luggage, remember that nylon duffels are lighter than suitcases; plus, they block moisture and are easier to stow in small places like under a camp cot.



Even the best-laid plans can go astray, and things can go wrong at summer camp just like anywhere else. To help your child deal with potential problems, review these points:

    • Summer nights are ideally warm, dry and moonlit. Nonetheless, depending on where the camp is located and the weather patterns of the summer, it can definitely get cold and wet, day or night. Be sure to pack extra socks, long pants, sweatshirts and a hat.


    • You know how important it is to protect your child against a bad sunburn, but it’s easy for kids to get caught up in the action. Don’t forget to pack an easy-to-apply high-SPF sunblock and make sure your child knows how often to reapply the protection and to do so on cloudy days, too.


    • Similarly, there are a variety of insect-repellant sprays and lotions to keep your child itchless and bite-free this summer. Try to get an small, easy-to-maneuver container, and make sure your child knows how to apply it to keep the bugs at bay.


    • Avoid packing items that need batteries or AC adapters. With minimal effort, you can get radios and flashlights that work by solar power or cranking a handle. It’s better for the environment and your child need not worry about having the right battery sizes.


    • Avoid sending cash with your children, except for some change for use in vending machines. If there’s a camp store, see if they allow use of a Visa gift card so you can control how much your child spends on non-essentials.


    • Don’t send cellular phones to camp. It’s a strong temptation for them to call their friends back home instead of participating in activities with their new friends. Rather, pack them with a pre-paid calling card with minimal minutes to use at the payphone for calling home only.


    • Pack a small First Aid kit with bandages and topical antibiotic in case your child experiences a small boo-boo when the camp nurse is off-duty. However, don’t include aspirin or any kind of medicines unless the camp specifies that children are allowed to keep their own medical supplies.


    • If your child requires medicine on a regular basis, or for allergies or a medical condition like epilepsy or diabetes, be sure you communicate this, in writing, with the camp’s administrative office before the start of the summer. Send a copy of this letter with your child to show the nurse, in case of any miscommunication. The note should include dosages for any medications and the prescribing physician’s name and contact information.


    • Pack a list of emergency numbers. The camp should have a well-maintained list of all numbers at which to reach you or anyone you designate. However, in case an unforeseen emergency pops up, make sure your child has a list of extra numbers, including grandparents and next-door neighbors. The likelihood of needing the list is low, but the positive impact it will have on your child’s sense of security is high.


SHOW UP FOR MAIL CALL—Deal with mail the RIGHT way!

As the old Allan Sherman song “Hello, Muddah” reminds us, letters from camp can be amusing. However, done the right way, letters TO camp can dramatically improve your child’s camping experience.

    • Start before your child even leaves for camp. Send a few letters or post cards a few days before your child even leaves for camp so there will be mail at the first Mail Call. Also, you might want to tuck a few small notes into your child’s duffel bag so he can feel loved from the minute he starts unpacking. One caution: if your child or teen is the type who is easily embarrassed, you might want to skip the “mushy” notes and just write something funny or draw a little cartoon of yourself.


    • Send care packages, but follow camp rules regarding food and forbidden items. Even if food is allowed, don’t mix food in the same package with soaps or toiletries, or the summer heat ruin the taste of the food. And if you do send food, try to send less easily perishable foods rather than fresh-baked items that might get stale in the mail. Better yet, skip food altogether and send funny clippings, your home newspaper’s comics pages and other items that can be enjoyed and then discarded without having to be stored or packed for the return home.


    • Send smaller children with a stack of pre-addressed and stamped envelopes or post cards so they’ll be more inclined to write. If your child needs encouragement to write even a short reply, try sending letters that ask questions and allow them to check off items from a multiple-choice list or fill in Mad-Lib® style blank spaces.


    • Send mail frequently, filled with chatty news. Don’t harp on how much you miss them; if they’re having fun, they’ll feel guilty, and if they’re homesick, they’ll feel it more so. Instead, concentrate on silly stories or mention what you’ll do when you’re back together.


May you and your children have a safe and happy summer!

Copyright © 2007 Julie Bestry and Best Results Organizing. All rights reserved.


About the Author:   Julie Bestry is a professional organizer, speaker and author, who helps individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems. Her most recent book is 57 Secrets for Organizing Your Small Business. For information on how Julie can turn your chaos into serenity, visit Best Results Organizing at

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