Ready, Set, Camp

Preparing your child for camp can fend off homesickness

Summer camp activities at Camp Jones Gulch, a branch of the YMCA of San Francisco, include making and eating s'mores (top), canoeing (middle), and of course, a talent show (bottom).

Photographs courtesy YMCA Camp Jones Gulch

This summer, millions of kids will pack their bags and head off to camp. Spending time away from home and in the heart of nature is an amazing experience that teaches children to be independent, confident in the outdoors, and comfortable around new people. But kids can get homesick. A study by Dr. Christopher Thurber, co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook, found that 83 percent of male campers aged 8 to 16 experienced homesickness on at least one day during their stay at an overnight camp.

There are ways to reassure children and make them feel comfortable while they’re away. For example, have your child help choose the camp he or she will attend. Having some say in the camp particulars can help children avoid homesickness. If your child has not spent much time away from home, create practice separation situations before camp starts: Have your child sleep over at a friend’s house or spend a weekend with relatives.

As camp time approaches, give kids positive encouragement about the fact that they will make new friends and try new activities. And, says Jennifer Clink, executive director of YMCA Camp Jones Gulch near La Honda, avoid making a deal with your child such as “If you’re unhappy, I’ll come and pick you up.” Doing so gives the camper the message that you don’t have confidence in his or her ability to make it through the week, she says.

When your kids are away, send a care package loaded with healthy goodies to remind them how much you love them. Here are a few ideas for your care package:
Healthy Snacks: Try homemade granola, dried fruit, nuts, and trail mix to keep kids energized for camp activities.
Outdoor Essentials: Opt for chemical-free sunscreen and insect repellents. Many camps now require non-chemical sunscreen to protect their lakes and the fish and plants that live in them.
Love Notes: Nothing says “I love you and am proud of you” like a handwritten note from Mom and/or Dad. Mail one a day or two before your child leaves for camp, so it arrives soon after he or she gets there. Also include stamped, self-addressed envelopes so your child can write home. Email is fine, but letters are better!

Jessica Iclisoy is the founder of California Baby, a natural skincare line for babies, kids, and sensitive adults. Visit her website at