Preparing for school camp

It's normal for some kids to feel anxious about going to camp. Here's how to help them enjoy the adventure with confidence.

At a glance:

  • Some anxiety about going away to camp is normal.
  • School camp gives kids the opportunity to experience independence and make new friends.
  • Talk positively to your child about your own experiences at camp.
  • Find out if your child can choose a friend as a room mate.
  • Make sure your child can master skills like applying sunscreen and doing their own hair.
  • Have your child help label and pack all the belongings they are taking to camp.

School camp is one of the highlights of childhood – chances are you can still remember some of the campfire songs, the smell of damper cooking and the names of the kids you bunked with. However, it's also true that for some children (and their parents) the thought of staying away overnight can create a little anxiety.

It's not uncommon for kids to worry about:

  • who they'll room with
  • ‘being left out' of things
  • whether something might go wrong
  • feeling homesick
  • other understandable concerns.

Even the most outgoing and confident child may have a few moments of separation anxiety as the time to leave gets closer.

According to NSW Sport and Recreation's Christine Duff, who manages the Hawkesbury River Centre at Milson Island, helping your child feel positive about going to camp is important, as it provides a new opportunity for them to stretch their wings.

Children enjoy the challenges that camps provide – sharing a room, embracing challenging activities, sharing responsibility for things like washing up and getting to know their teachers outside of the classroom.

Christine Duff – Hawkesbury River Centre at Milson Island

It's worth remembering that every challenge your child overcomes contributes to their resilience and self-confidence when facing more unfamiliar situations later on.

School camps are such a good way to build confidence and jump-start friendships that many high schools organise camps for Year 7 students and their teachers in the first weeks of Term 1.

Tips for school camp confidence

Talk to your child

When the opportunity to attend school camp arises, ask your kids how they feel about it. Are they excited by the idea? Do they have any fears? During this conversation you may be able to discern any anxieties or unnecessary mental obstacles, and reassure them with your own positive school camp experiences from your own childhood. Be positive by saying things like "this will be fun, you'll enjoy the challenges".

Reduce the sense of unknown

Ask the teacher if you can have a rough breakdown of the daily schedule at camp. This way you can help your child envisage all the fun activities and realise that there is a beginning, middle and end to their stay. Often kids can make rooming requests to be with their friends – ask the teacher if this is possible and explain you are helping your child manage a little anxiety.

Practise sleepovers

Ideally, your child is used to the occasional sleepover at a friend or family members' home.  Remind them of their past successes. If your child refuses sleepovers or regularly calls you in tears at midnight needing to come home, you may need to work with them in the months before camp to reduce their anxiety. Macquarie University runs the Cool Kids program for children between 7 and 17 years of age, which may be worth exploring. They offer online, telephone and CD-based outreach support for families who aren't able to attend the Sydney campus.

Practise ‘independence' skills at home

Does your child do their hair, remember to clean their teeth, know how to apply sunscreen and turn the shower taps on and off in the right order? There are lots of simple skills they can practise to feel more confident about being away from home.

Prepare, make lists, and pack together

When your child brings home the list of clothes and toiletries they need for camp, get them to help you find (or shop for), then label their things. It's exciting for them to help prepare and pack, but it will also help them be aware of all the things that need to come back home again!

Keep communication with school staff

Your child's teacher has probably taken hundreds of kids to camp over the years. They understand that children and parents are stepping outside their comfort zones for the first school camp. Don't be afraid to send a note to the teachers who will be supervising your child to raise any concerns you have. They'll appreciate the extra information as makes their time at camp easier too.

Keep positive

Tellling your child you believe they're ready for school camp and they'll have a great time helps your child believe it too.

School camp is a great opportunity for your child to push their boundaries, discover new friends and experience outdoor adventures first hand.

Find out more about the NSW Department of Sport and Recreation's school camps - and if this article has you hankering for campfires and ziplines again, check out their family-friendly holiday camps too.

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