When it comes to her first time at camp, your child's active imagination might start out as a hindrance rather than a help. She might picture a huge, scary place filled with strangers, or she might imagine getting lost in the woods. Camp is all about having fun and making new friends, so if you can ease her fears and get that message across, she'll be bouncing with excitement on her first day.
1. Act It Out
Playing camp lets you drift back to the memories of your first camp experience while sharing the fun and excitement with your own child. Help your child get an idea of what a day at her camp is going to be like by setting up a tent in the yard or by setting up sleeping bags in the living room to mimic a cabin. Invite her friends over or make it a family affair. Play outdoor games, catch fireflies, sing silly camp songs and do arts and crafts projects. Share your own memories of camp with your child, and let her talk through any worries she has about the first day.
2. Cook Out
Make camp seem like a real treat by whipping up some camp-themed snacks. Talk about how camps often hold cook-outs and have her help you create some camping classics. Build a campfire in a fire pit in the backyard -- assuming such pits are permitted in your town -- and hunt around for long sticks. Start with the classic: crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth, fresh-off-the-fire s'mores. Next, toast up some hot dogs in the flames, and finish with bowls of "gorp," short for "good old raisins and peanuts," or create your own trail mix from scratch. Not only will these treats get her excited for camp, but sitting around a fire is the perfect chance to talk about campfire safety basics.
3. Turn to the Media
You can tell her what camp is like until you're blue in the face, but seeing it unfold might be all it takes to get her excited. For a younger child, head straight to the library and pick up some books about camp. Story books like "The Night Before Summer Camp" by Natasha Wing and "The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp" by Stan and Jan Berenstain are appropriate for young campers, while elementary school-age kiddos will also like chapter books like the "Camp Confidential" books by Melissa J. Morgan. Movies can also make camp seem like fun, but beware of teen-camp movies that tend to be raunchy. Stick with classics like the "Parent Trap" movies.
4. Take a Tour
For a young child, or for any child who's especially nervous about camp, seeing the big bad place in person can put her mind at ease. Most camps should be willing to let you schedule an advance visit so your child can learn her way around; if you can't visit for whatever reason, try to show your child as many visual aids as you can. Go through the camp's website together to study the pictures, and pull up aerial maps of the grounds on Internet map sites. Study the list of available activities on the camp's site and talk about which things your child would like to try. If all else fails, get a little new-agey and encourage your child to visit the camp in her mind. Have her close her eyes and describe what she thinks camp will be like. If she's way off, you can offer some gentle correction so she develops a realistic and positive idea.
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