Our Local Experts Get You Organized for a Week (or More!) of Summer Fun
by Sherida Mock
Summer camp time is just around the corner, so we collected the advice from a handful of seasoned, local pros to help you get ready. Here are nine tips to fill the next several weeks with minimal stress and maximum fun.
Visit in Advance
Bring your child to the facility before the first day of camp. “I think it’s wise to visit the place you’re going to send your child,” says Susan McMorris, owner of Rio Vista Farm, “even if you just do a drive-by.”
“It’s always good for the camper and the parents to see the facility,” says Dan Neal, director of Camp Doublecreek. “The camper can get a visual of what will happen on Monday.”
Check with the camp to see what they advise. Some camps suggest you to tour the grounds and meet the staff. Others offer a free trial class.
Hydration is key to health and enjoyment during a hot Central Texas summer. Most day camps make water available, but “many children like to carry their own water,” says Jan Fiebig, president of Mad Science of Austin and San Antonio.
How much to send varies by camp. Consider whether your child will spend most of her time indoors or out. For mostly outdoor camps, “the best thing is a personal-sized, Igloo-type jug,” says McMorris. “Fill it with ice and add water; it’ll last a child all day.”
“My clever parents will freeze a half-full water bottle overnight, then fill the rest with water,” says Neal.
Pack a Smart Lunch
If you’ve been packing a lunch all school year, this can seem like a no-brainer. But wait a sec: day camps have some special requests. First, be considerate of children with food allergies.
“Kids like to share,” says Karina Lucio, general manager of Dance Discovery. “And they aren’t always aware of other kids’ allergies.” So skip the peanut butter in favor of other protein sources—but not yogurt tubes. “Those are very messy,” Lucio says.
McMorris adds that while her camp has a small refrigerator, “it’s best not to send something that needs to be refrigerated. With large numbers of kids, it’s hard to do that for all of them.”
Most parents know—but often forget—to label every item their child takes with them. McMorris says her weekly Parents Day affords an opportunity to claim lost items.
But camps that don’t have a Parents Day sometimes end up with a mountainous lost-and-found inventory. “Among other things, at the end of the summer, I have about 100 backpacks that I donate to charity,” says Neal.
Campers should be ready for some serious play—and that means no Sunday best. “Come dressed to have a good time,” says Fiebig.
If you need to buy clothing, “go cheap-o on the camp clothes,” says Neal. “They’re going to get dirty.” Lucio adds that most camps have craft time, so she suggests sending an overshirt for the messy activities.
And Neal has a special request: “Please wear tennis shoes. Don’t wear Crocs; don’t wear Toms. They’re great shoes, but you’re coming to camp to play hard.”
Slather on the Sunscreen
Have your child apply sunscreen before she arrives at camp and send some along for reapplication. Neal says children as young as 4 can learn how to apply sunscreen themselves. As for brands and types, McMorris says “what works best is the kind they will put on.”
Don’t assume you’re off the hook if the camp is mostly indoors. Even those camps spend time in the sun. “We go outside for about half an hour every day,” says Lucio.
Pay Attention to Paperwork
Lucio asks that during registration, parents make sure to note any important allergies or other medical needs. For example, if your child keeps an EpiPen handy, make sure that is communicated to the staff.
Feibig agrees, saying that “if a parent has specific concerns, share it with the camp provider. We prefer it to be written and then reinforced with the instructor upon arrival.”
In addition, be sure to provide a third-party emergency contact number. Neal has experienced emergencies in which both parents were unavailable, “and then we don’t have anybody we can call.”
Have a Dropoff and Pickup Plan
Make sure you are aware of camp hours and know what to expect if you are late. “It’s not uncommon for Mom to think Dad’s picking up today, or vice versa,” says Fiebig. “There’s about a 10-minute window before we start making calls.”
For camps that offer shuttles, plan to arrive at the pickup spot 10 minutes early. “We don’t wait,” says McMorris. “It delays the camp getting started.”
Be prompt in meeting the end-of-day dropoff shuttle, as well. Otherwise, “the van driver, who is also the camp instructor and has been teaching kids all day, has to sit and wait. It’s just not considerate,” says McMorris.
Diversify the Experience
For families who fill their summer with weeks of camp, Neal has one final bit of advice: mix it up.
“I love the fact that we get campers who come back week after week after week,” he says. “But I see a lot of great development that comes from diversifying camp experiences—going to maybe three or four, depending on the age. When children are about 9, I think it’s important for them to do overnight camp. It makes them enjoy our experience even more.”