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Are your children headed out to camp this summer? Whether they’ll be attending a day camp and coming home in the evenings or sleeping in a cabin in the woods, you want them to be prepared. I’ve put together a list of essentials that will keep your little campers happy, cool and in style.

Day Camps

Local day camps like the Second Baptist Church’s Lake Nixon and Arkansas 4-H’s Discovery Day Camp offer kids the full outdoors camp experience with the comforts of coming home to one’s own cozy bed at the end of the day. A staple of working families, day camps provide a fulfilling experience for boys and girls while mom and dad are at work. It’s also a way for younger children who are not yet ready to spend the night away from home to experience the joys of building friendships, fishing, hiking and exploring the outdoors that camps provide. Day campers are usually provided with a list of items to bring with them daily, so if you have a child attending one of these camps, you probably already have a good idea of what to pack. Although lunch at most camps is provided for a small fee, Cassidy prefers that her lunch be hand-packed by mom so she’s sure to have her favorites. Along with the requisite PB&J, I like to include a serving of fresh fruit or veggies and a granola bar for extra energy. Be sure to check to see what the camp’s arrangements for meals and snacks are before you send a hungry kid out the door! In addition to her lunch, Cassidy takes a small tote bag containing a towel, sunscreen, swimming goggles, and a book to read on the bus. There is generally not a lot that a day camper needs to bring with them, which again is just one of the many advantages of this type of arrangement.

Sleepaway Camps

Staying at camp overnight is a veritable rite of passage for youngsters in America. My daughter has been going to Girl Scout camps for a week at a time since she was seven years old. Packing for sleepaway camps is a lot more labor intensive than it is for day camps, but once you’ve done it a few times it becomes old hand. The first major item to consider is what you want to pack your child’s clothing in. I will warn you, suitcases are NOT cool to take to camp. When I was young, everyone took those big metal trunks and decorated them with puffy paint and stickers. Those are also not very fashionable these days, what I have seen most kids using are large plastic tubs designed for storage. They’re easy to carry, virtually waterproof, and easy to store. Most cabins don’t have a lot of room for storing luggage, so that’s something you’ll need to consider. I usually send Cassidy’s clothes in one of the larger (around 10 gallon) storage tubs, and her smaller items in one of the flat bins designed to slide under a bed. This keeps items that she uses daily close at hand, as well as helping to keep the living areas neat. BE SURE TO LABEL EVERY ITEM YOU WANT TO COME HOME WITH YOUR CHILD’S NAME. I cannot count the number of strange flip flops and t-shirts that we end up with at the end of every summer. When you put ten kids together in a cabin in the woods, they are going to share clothes, so you’ll definitely want to give your child an easy way to keep track of his or her belongings!

As far as clothing goes – it’s generally a good idea to pack an outfit (shorts and t-shirts are always appropriate for camp wear) for every day with a few spares for backup. A couple of pairs of jeans and a light jacket in case of cool nights are also a good idea. Check with your camp regarding footwear; some places do not allow flip-flops for safety purposes, so you’ll want to find out what is appropriate. I usually send a variety of tennis shoes, flip flops and sandals for Cassidy to choose from. Swimsuits are an essential camp item – it’s probably a good idea to send 3 or 4 so there is always a dry one available. Most campers swim more than once a day and it can be very uncomfortable to try to slip back into a wet or possibly sandy suit. Of course, you know to send a mountain of underwear and socks – all neatly labeled with your child’s name. (If you’re not keen on spending hours writing on clothes with a permanent marker, there are a lot of specialty shops that will make easy to iron or sew on labels for this exact purpose.) For rainy days, I have found that most campers bring a poncho, which folds flat and is easily portable. You can generally find one for a couple of dollars at any kind of discount store. Your child will need a few towels, usually at least one for the shower and one for the pool. I try to pack these with the rest of the toiletries to make them easy to find. Also essential for the bathrooms: shampoo, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, a brush or comb, deodorant, and a washcloth or bath poof. There are special caddies available for the purpose of transporting bathroom supplies (they work just as well in dorms, so hang onto them!) Aside from the essentials like clothing and toiletries, your child will probably need to bring a sleeping bag or sheets and a blanket, as well as their favorite pillow. They may also want to bring a stuffed animal, and this is generally not discouraged. Cassidy is a bookworm, so I always pack a couple of chapter books to keep her occupied during quiet moments in the cabin. Don’t forget stationery or cards, a pen or two and stamps, because they’ll definitely want to write home about their new friends and adventures! Sunscreen, bug spray, a flashlight, a water bottle and, for scouts, a mess kit are all essentials and can easily be found at a Target or Wal-Mart. It’s probably a good idea to compile a list and do all of your camp shopping at one time, but make sure to give yourself at least a week to label, pack and double-check your list to ensure that nothing important gets left behind.

With a little careful planning, you can make sure that your kids have everything that they need for the big exciting adventures that lay ahead. Summer camp is one of my fondest memories of my childhood summers, and I love being able to give my daughter the same kind of happy camp days to look back on when she’s all grown up. Be sure to look for my blog post next week about how to compose a perfect care package to send to your little campers!

Savvy Kids is a monthly family magazine reflecting the unique style, interests and needs of central Arkansas families. In each issue of Savvy Kids, we feature health topics, information for special needs families, and highlight local heroes, arts programs and community events.
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