Help Caregivers Feel Comfortable on the First Day of Camp

As camp directors, you spend a lot of time thinking about camp improvements that can make a child’s experience better, but you likely forget about the parents’ experience.
min read

Dropping your child off anywhere, especially for the first time, can be daunting for many caregivers. From all of the things they need to remember (extra hat! sunscreen! paperwork!) to the leap of faith they take turning their child over to practical strangers (your staff), the first day of camp is especially stressful for many parents.

As camp directors, we often spend a lot of time thinking about camp improvements that can make a child’s experience better, but we forget about the parents’ experience outside of the practical activities of registration or health information. With this, we have a huge opportunity to support parents in a unique way: with their feelings!

Expose the hidden curriculum for parents

At The Summer Camp Society, we often talk about the “Hidden Curriculum” of a place or group of people. A term borrowed from the education world, the Hidden Curriculum refers to the unspoken expectations in a place or with a specific group of people. At camp, we spend a lot of time and energy illuminating the Hidden Curriculum for campers, but what have we done for parents? For instance, as a first-time camp parent, they may have the following questions:

  • What should I expect at drop-off?
  • Do I need to pack my child a lunch?
  • How long should I stick around before saying goodbye?
  • What should I wear to drop-off? What should they wear? Will there be bugs? Will there be climate control?

Share an explanatory video

Not knowing how to prepare for drop-off day and not really being able to imagine it either can be intimidating for parents. You can easily illuminate the camp Hidden Curriculum for parents with resources like a short, informative video that’s filmed and narrated by an experienced camp parent on check-in day, guiding the viewer through all of the steps, or a photo gallery with images of all of the steps with descriptive captions. If I know more about my role as a parent, I can reduce my own anxiety and also better prepare my child for what they are about to experience.

Create a handout with steps to follow and a map

When I volunteered at Camp Tall Tree for many summers, I loved this easy support that each parent got when they arrived at the gate for camp check-in. It was a simple half sheet (printed on cardstock) that sequentially listed of all of the steps they needed to do to successfully check in their camper. It would have been even better had it been written on top of a map of camp so parents would know what they needed to do and where to do it. The written visual aid is useful for many of our caregivers and is a very inexpensive way to provide additional communication and clarity.

A simplified version of the list of steps would be something like this:

  1. Go to main table to check in and learn group assignment
  1. Turn in medicine and other signed waivers and ask any medical questions
  1. Meet your child’s counselor at the picnic tables
  1. Help your child settle in by putting away their bag and/or lunch, and then depart no later than 3 p.m.

Share facts about staff

The last piece of advice is a little bit tricky because oftentimes logistics with staff aren’t finalized until right before camp begins. However, as a parent, it is very reassuring to know at least some information about your child’s caregivers at camp. Many camps include staff bios on their social media, but it can be too much for a parent to sort through to really be useful.

Instead, compile short bios for each counselor (camp history, what they do in the “offseason” like school/work, special interests or hobbies, and a short message to the campers), and compile them visually in a brochure format using an application like Canva. Then, a few days before each session, email parents and let them know which counselors will be working with their children so they can learn basic information about the staff. If you don’t have exact counselors locked in until the very last second, email parents a general list of individuals that will be working with their child’s age group. Knowing and building a little foundation of context and trust for a child’s camp counselors can go a long way for parents.

It is a tough job being a parent. Even if you get all the logistical things “right,” new experiences like the first day of camp for your kid can be anxiety-provoking. Even instituting one of these ideas can make a huge difference for a parent and save you time as a camp director because parents who are comfortable are much easier to work with than parents who are not.

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