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A Parent’s Survival Guide to Summer Camp

by Sheena

Hey there parents,

So you signed your kid(s) up for camp… You watched the videos, read the info, debated what camp activities to do and completed the registration forms. Now, here you sit in front of an empty suitcase, trying to remember what exactly you were thinking all those months ago.

Are you wondering how your child is going to dress themselves every day? Have you pondered if they’ll brush their teeth? Are you worried about how they’ll feel mid-week when pangs of homesickness start to show up?

I’ve been there. Last summer actually, my eldest went to AC for the first time, and I stood in front of his suitcase dumbfounded at the thought of what to put in it. I was pretty sure he couldn’t REALLY survive without me, so it was my job to ensure that everything in that piece of luggage was well thought out and easily triggered a “what would Mom want me to do” reflex.

I am not sure if all my efforts were fully appreciated by my 7-year-old son, but here are a few things that I did that not only appeased my worrying momma-heart, but I THINK also made that first-time camp experience that much smoother for my kidlet.

1. Packing Pro Tips

Pack 1 full outfit per day (t-shirt, shorts, socks underwear) plus 2 extra outfits per week. No more, no less. So for a 7-day camp week, pack 9 outfits. For younger campers I’d even suggest putting each outfit in a Ziploc bag. Then, when they wake up, they can grab a bag and get dressed. PLUS it means that your kid will be the best dressed in those camp candids because you can coordinate their wardrobe from afar. BONUS! Then add 3 long pants, long sleeve shirts, a hoodie, 2 sets of pj’s and you’re set! If you ask my husband, I am the last person to give this piece of advice, but I’m gonna put it out there for both of our sake: Try not to over think it – because your kid definitely isn’t going to!

2. Pack An Extra Sheet

Send an extra set of bed sheets. Pack some for their bed, but also put an extra set at the bottom of the suitcase. This is a “just in case” set. The camp counselors have an awesome system to avoid drawing attention to a child who has had an accident. Everything is done like a covert op, and very rarely do other campers even realize something happened. Sending this extra sheet expedites the change-over process.

3. The Raincoat

It’s always a gamble as to whether or not it will rain during that week or two your kids are at camp. Here is my go-to fix: head to the dollar store and grab one of those gargantuan ponchos, put it on your kid at home, grab a pair of scissors and trim the bottom to his/her size. I told myself he wouldn’t ever use a poncho, but no lie, I can remember the image of my child flying across the camp field in a bright yellow sheet of plastic—it was his outfit of choice that day. He was happy… and there was one less set of clothes to wash when we got home.

4. Pre-write Letters to Your Kids

At camp there is a very intricate internal postal system where camp mail is driven from site to site multiple times throughout the day. Thus ICMs show up for campers at various times of the day. Every parent has the good intentions of sending their kids mail while they are at camp, but let’s be honest, when you wake up from that epically long and well-deserved nap after dropping your kids off at camp, sending them a package is not high on your list of things to do. No one is judging you, I promise. Then all of a sudden it’s Thursday, and there is no way you can get mail to your kid without breaking the bank. SO before you get to camp, write a couple notes, maybe put together a small package, and then when you go to the tuck office/camp store during check-in, you can leave the notes there and tell them when you want them delivered throughout the week. Voila! Your kids feel like you’ve remembered them throughout the week, and now you don’t actually have to! Errr…. I mean OF COURSE you will.

5. Extra Laundry Bag

Send a Laundry Bag. My kid was under STRICT instructions to put every piece of clothing that he took off of his body into that laundry bag. I hung it at the end of his bed and this accomplished 2 things for me: 1) it meant that dirty, wet clothes were less likely to be put back in his suitcase with his clean clothes, and 2) we didn’t lose as many clothes as I had anticipated… SCORE!

6. Garbage Bags

Yes garbage Bags. When you arrive to pick up your kids, come with garbage bags in hand. This is not an opportunity to give back to camp by cleaning, though that would be appreciated. This is 100% for self-preservation. When you get to your child’s sleeping quarters, shovel everything they own into those garbage bags. Do not try to repack them, don’t try to organize their bags, don’t sort bedding… I’m telling you, for the sake of all things good… cram everything into those garbage bags and tie them shut before the camp stench of it all permeates your own clothes. What you do with it from there is totally your call. Last year, I drove to my in-laws and unpacked everything there. Let’s just say, I wrote an apology note after for what went down in their laundry room… it was bad, friends… real bad. I don’t have a whole lot of advice on how to prevent it, but let this serve as a means to PREPARE you. Go with God.

7. Trust

You’re about to hand off your baby to a group of people you don’t necessarily know very well. That is not easy for anyone, let alone a momma. No one knows your kids like you do, so take all the opportunities that camp provides for you to impart wisdom on how to help your child cope – fill out registration forms and check in with camp staff on drop-off day. Then confidently #leadbyexample. Walk your littles to their chalet, look your child’s camp counselor in the eye and tell them how grateful you are for them. Then TRUST. Trust that those counselors are there because they care about the well-being of your kids; trust that they could be anywhere, likely making more money for the summer, but they are choosing your child. Trust that they have been vetted, trained, prayed over and invested in for such a time as this. Trust that you have checked all the boxes, that you have prepared your child, that you are a good mom and that sending your child to camp provides them with an invaluable life experience they will never forget. Trust that when God gave you your child(ren), he knew that this day would come. They are in His hands.

8. Pray

This is self-explanatory, but let this serve as a reminder. Lift your kids up, pray for the camp staff, nurses, cooks, counselors, waterfront staff, housekeepers, maintenance people. Pray for fun, long-lasting, meaningful friendships. Pray for close encounters with God and ask for safety for all involved. Camp is this perfect little bubble of time where kids are left to their own devices, and, as scary as that is for a mom/dad to think about, it is where our kids grow a little. They see who they are just a little; they come out of their shell just a little; they become their own person… just a little. There is nothing like a camp experience to pull a child out from their parents’ coat tails and into their own self-realization. And what’s more, there is an entire team of people just waiting to help turn their focus to something positive, meaningful and purposeful. Waiting to direct them toward their Creator. Pray, friends. A week at camp is life changing. Pray. Pray. Pray.

So, as you pull onto that camp road and the trees begin to hug the lane just a bit tighter, you’ll start to feel your heart do the same. Deep breaths… you’ve got this. You have packed well, you have prepared well, you have done it all. Breathe in… your role as a parent is to work yourself out of a job. Breathe out… rest in the fact that you are giving your child a wonderful gift. Breathe in. Breathe out. God is at work.

Sheena McKay


Sheena is a stay at home mom of 3 and wife to 1. She would never claim to know anything definitive about mothering and is fully aware that her kids are the incredible people they are solely because they belong to God. Her passions lie within drawing people into community and her current role as the MOPS Canada Area Coach for MOPS International.

MOPS International has been building communities of moms for over 40 years, connecting women all over the globe to embrace the journey of motherhood, together. Being a part of MOPS gives moms around the world the chance to experience genuine community, personal growth and the love of Jesus. We believe all moms are world influencers and we’re here to encourage and equip them to live their best lives. To find out more:



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Ontario Pioneer Camp
942 Clearwater Lake Road
Port Sydney, Ontario
P0B 1L0

1.800.361. CAMP (2267)




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