Advice for First-time Campers

How Will Shelton, Camp Director, prepares his own first-time camper for summer camp.

Read Time 3 minutes

Dear Camp Families, 

We hope you are just as excited as we are for summer at Tanadoona! The warm sun, hikes through the woods, frog-catching in the wetlands, mud puddles from summer showers, mastering the agility course and so much more with counselors from around the world — summer is here!

As I begin my 28th summer in camping (a journey from camper to staff to director across 4 states) I am excited to do something I have never done at camp: I get to be a parent of a camper! Our 5 year-old daughter, Charlie, starts as a day camper this summer. We are so excited for the opportunity, nervous about how she’ll react and behave in a new environment, and hopeful for the positive outcomes on her life.

Every year we get similar questions from parents and guardians about how to prepare their kids for their first summer camp experience: Will they make friends? Be bullied? Feel lonely? And how can we help them get ready before going to camp?

Being in the unique position of parent/director, I’m taking the advice I’ve given other parents for years to help make Charlie’s first time at camp a success. I have seen over the years just how summer camp can build empathy, independence and spark something new in campers. Being part of a community and engaging in new activities and experiences is FUN, of course, but it is also influential beyond summer camp.

With that in mind, we’re preparing Charlie for camp by focusing on how she can positively contribute to her new camp community.

  1. Encouraging her to think about how her actions impact others. Camp is inherently group-based, so we’re working with Charlie to be conscious of others. We also practice being of service to others – camp requires some level of service from every camper. Sometimes it’s picking up litter, wiping tables, or straightening-up after an activity. But it can also be inviting others to play, participating in activities that aren’t your favorite, or sharing a hammock. As our first child, and the first grandchild on both sides, this can be challenging for Charlie, so we’ve made a habit of practicing small things like straightening-up, sharing, and trying new activities. Before her week at camp, we’ll also review the behavior contract in the Family Handbook.
  2. Building self-reliance. Camp is an excellent place to practice being away from parents and teachers. We are using camp as an opportunity to get Charlie excited about responsibility for her belongings, hygiene, and finding solutions to problems that may arise. For example, earlier this week, Charlie became upset when her shoe strings came untied. Rather than having Charlie dwell on the problem, we asked her to think of a solution. How might she address this when a parent isn’t around? Sometimes it can be as simple as asking a counselor for help.
  3. Encouraging Charlie (and me) to separate well. We want a week at camp to be an adventure for Charlie, separate from her time with us. We’ll be setting clear boundaries about when she can interact with me and – since our house is on Tanadoona property – when she can go to our home. For other families this might look like talking about when you’ll pick your camper up at the end of each day, or establishing a good morning routine.

I hope you can use your week of summer camp at Tanadoona for both fun and growth that best fits your camper. Remember that getting them to camp is only the first part. Take the time to talk about their camp experiences and bring the lessons from camp to home. See you this summer!

Will “Phin” Shelton, Camp Director (and 1st time camper parent)

P.S. we also have a long list of Tanadoona summer camp FAQs on the Parent Resources page if you’re looking for more!