The "down & dirty" on camp

The word camp can bring many different visions to one’s mind. As a parent, you might reflect about happy times from your own experiences. Or you might have unsettling thoughts of all the logistics involved and the things that could happen if you send your son off to camp. Observing or ignoring the nitty gritty details can make or break the camp experience. With some preparation and a bit of know-how, camp can be an awesome experience for children. Here are some tips to help ease the minds of mom, dad and the camper.
Camp costs
With today’s economy, the cost of camp could be considered a luxury this year. So you want to uncover every possibility to keep more of your hard earned money in your pocket. Eve Eifler, Co-Director at Tips on Trips and Camps, offers these suggestions.  
Be aware of early enrollment discounts. Plan ahead to take advantage of them.
Ask the camp about a discount for multiple children from one family.
Inquire about shorter sessions to accommodate a tight budget.
Contact camps run by your local government or agencies like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Campfire Boys, Jewish Federation and Salvation Army.  
Look into financial aid, which is available at most camps. 
 As you’re looking into camp options, ask what the standard policy is for cancellation prior to the start date. Is it refundable up to a specific date? What is the policy if a child must leave camp early due to illness? Is a portion of the fee refunded or could your child attend another session in the future. By asking these questions ahead of time, you won’t have any surprises later.   
Camp ready
Before signing on the dotted line, make sure your child and the camp are a good fit. The American Camping Association suggests seven or eight as the age guideline for children to attend their first overnight camp. However, children mature at various ages and if your youngster is shy and panics in new surroundings, you might want to wait until he is a little older. 
Regardless of age, the camper should be able to handle basic tasks, such as tying his own shoelaces, cutting food, showering, getting dressed and making a bed, before heading off to camp, advises child psychologist Dr. Pete Stavinoha. “Without these skills, a child will have to rely on counselors as babysitters instead of friends, instructors and role models they should be.”
 Other considerations to think about include the type of camp and your child’s personality and capabilities. This is especially important for specialty camps. Though your child might be the right age, is his level of skill up to the standards expected of camp counselors. If he’s attending a swimming camp, what skills will he need to know and what will be taught. If he’s attending a drama camp, is he expected to perform at the end of the week and will he want to do so? For a computer camp, what does he need to know before he attends? 
Specialty camps should enhance a child’s skills, yet provide the opportunity for an enjoyable time. By gathering more information prior to the program, you’re taking steps to eliminate the possibility that your son could be overwhelmed or bored.
Camp preparation
Although you’ll be given a supply list, inquire about sleeping conditions. Ask if campers sleep in a tent on the ground or in a platform tent? A piece of foam offers some cushion and protection from the hard ground. Also, you’ll need to know the required weight of a sleeping bag and if you should have plastic covering to go over the bedding to keep moisture out. 
 Or will your son sleep in a dormitory? Ask if the rooms are air conditioned or not. This will make a difference on what type of sheet and blankets he takes with him. One preteen packed a sheet and lightweight blanket only to freeze the entire two weeks because the air conditioning was programmed and the room temperature couldn’t be changed.  
 Keep in mind you’ll need to transport bedding in something sturdy. Though a plastic garbage bag might sound like a handy idea, more than likely the bag will be torn before your child arrives at the site. Consider purchasing a drawstring bag or mesh laundry bag sold at discount stores.
 Personal hygiene is another area to cover. With MRSA on the rise, explain to your youngster to be stingy and don’t share his towels, washcloths and other personal items. At the same time, warn him not to borrow from others. Provide an extra supply of towels and washcloths. Make sure the camper has shower shoes and a container for shower items, such as shampoo, bath gel and such. A container that has holes in the bottom that allows water to escape works well.
Camp grub
Meals are an important element of the camp program. At some camps, meal prep and clean up are part of the daily schedule. Campers should have some basic kitchen skills. Consider teaching your child how to cut with a knife, use a vegetable peeler, crack an egg, measure ingredients, wash dishes and so forth.
 If your child has any kind of food allergies, it is vital to know what food will be served. Is it cafeteria style with a choice of options? If not, ask about alternative selections for foods he can not eat. At the very least, will peanut butter and/or jelly sandwiches be available? 
Camp expectations
Camp, like any activity or vacation, will have high and low points. Talk to your child about the possible ups and downs, suggests Stavinoha. Encourage a realistic view. By doing so, and following these tips, you’ll help make camp the best experience for your child.
Mary Jo Rulnick is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh.