10 Camp Pitfalls You Can Avoid

by June Portnoy

You might think that the worst camp mistake you could make is missing registration. However, according to local camp administrators, most of the biggest parental boo-boos take place after camp has started.
We asked several camp directors to share their thoughts on camp mistakes parents can avoid. Here are their responses.

1. Forcing kids into going to camp. “No matter how wonderful the camp is, or how friendly the staff is, campers will be miserable if they feel as if the experience was forced on them. I love getting e-mails directly from prospective campers. They often ask the best questions to get a clear picture of what our camp is like. Campers who choose our camp over other programs tend to have a very positive attitude right from the beginning.” — Katherine Adame, Allegheny Riding Camp and Grier School, Tyrone, PA

2. Making judgments too early. “For many children, going to camp is the first time they have ever left their parents’ side besides school. If the camp is in a different town from their home, or if campers are with new children or staff, the experience can be downright daunting! Hence, it’s unrealistic for parents to assume that every child will transition smoothly into being a model, happy camper after one or two days of camp.
“Like adults, children also need a little time to get used to things in order to relax and feel comfortable. Be supportive and your camper will be sure to have a wonderful summer.” — Andy Pritikin, Liberty Lake Day Camp, Columbus, NJ and Board Member of the American Camping Association

3. Jumping to conclusions without all the information
. “For day campers, parents can hear about their child’s day from the time they get off the bus, while for overnight campers, it could come in a letter or e-mail with delays between responses.
“In both cases, parents should not take all information at face value. Don’t jump to conclusions without getting further information. Don’t overreact to one particular situation before you get a broader perspective on what is going on. Since your camper may not understand or share information completely about a particular situation, be sure to speak to the staff to get more information.” — Susan Ansul, Ramah Day Camp, Melrose Park, PA

4. Not keeping the lines of communication open. “If problems arise, no matter how big or small, parents should contact the camp staff and director immediately. As with most summer camps, children enjoy a relatively short stay, ranging from one to eight weeks. It is extremely important that problems or concerns be addressed quickly so that the child can have a positive experience.
“Problems can’t be resolved if the camp doesn’t know about them. Keep the lines of communication open with the directors and let them know any and all information that will give your camper the opportunity to have the best summer ever.” — Mary Jo D’Ortone, Hideaway Day Camp, Collegeville, PA

5: Neglecting to disclose personal information. “Parents should be honest about the personal (medical, athletic and social) information requested by camps on their various forms. By revealing this information, the director will have a better opportunity of providing the positive camp experience parents expect.
“When parents request bunk (group) mates, the request should be limited to no more than three. In this way, the director will be able to mix and match children in order to enhance the experience. Why go to camp just to have the same neighborhood children together?” — Howard Batterman, Sesame/ Rockwood Camps, Blue Bell, PA and Diamond Ridge Camps, Jamison, PA

6. Altering or stopping a child’s medication without notifying camp. “Often a child’s behavior will change drastically without explanation and when we call home for assistance, a parent will tell us about the medication change. A call or note to the camp nurse about such changes would help the staff to better serve each camper’s individual needs.” — Mike Kernan, Great Times Day Camp, Winslow, NJ

7. Forgetting to involve children when packing camp bags. “Parents often pack camp bags themselves or let their children pack their own bags without checking to see if they packed everything. As a result, children often cannot locate required daily items, such as water bottles, bathing suits, towels and lunch when they need them at camp.
“Kids also have a tendency to blame their parents for packing them lunches that they do not like to eat. If parents would make the process of gathering the belongings for camp a joint effort between the parent and child, life would be much easier for the child, camp counselor and the parent.” — Carol Ann Reed, Central Delaware YMCA and Aquatic Center, Dover, DE

8. Giving in to the camper’s fears and anxieties.
“Children sometimes come to camp feeling anxious or fearful about a certain activity or situation. Whether it is a fear of swimming or a fear of not making friends, parents need to remain positive and be willing to work with the camp staff to help the camper overcome these obstacles.
“Though it is easier to ask that your camper be excused from the swim program rather than deal with the child’s fear, it is not what is best for him. Overcoming these fears and anxieties by working closely with the camp staff will boost the child’s self-confidence, while providing a much more positive camp experience.” — Mary Jo D’Ortone

9. Disregarding camp rules.
“If parents let their child know that they don’t take the rules or structure of a camp program seriously, then their child could be dismissive of the rules or camp expectations. Parents should speak to the director if they have concerns so the director can communicate the camp’s rationale. It is important that once parents select a camp program that they support its structure.” — Susan Ansul

10. Not expressing gratitude. “We don’t allow our staff to accept tips from parents, but everyone loves to get a simple thank you note. When I receive a thank you letter from a parent, I read it out loud at our next staff meeting. Camp staff work long hours for little pay. Often this type of recognition from a parent is enough to motivate them to keep up the hard work.” — Katherine Adame

June Portnoy is a contributing writer to MetroKids.