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Kid Going to Sleepaway Camp for the First Time? Here's What Your Kids Really Need.

Kid Going to Sleepaway Camp? Here’s What They’ll Need

By Kelcey Kintner

You’re really doing it. You’re sending your kids to sleepaway camp. Okay, before you well up with tears (because that’s coming), you probably need to panic first about packing. Because have you seen The Packing List?! What do they really need? (Spoiler: Not everything on the list.) We talked to seasoned camp parents for their best sleepaway camp advice. So you don’t make the same mistakes they did!


The Camp Packing List is a Guide, Not a Bible

1) Don’t Pack the Kitchen Sink.
If this is your first time packing for sleepaway camp, you are going to be tempted to follow every detail of the camp packing list. Try to seriously resist that urge. NY mom Jordana B. says, “USE YOUR COMMON SENSE. You are not sending your child out into the wild. If you forget something – you will see them in a few weeks for visiting day and you can always send stuff.” Pack what your child actually likes to wear.

2) In General, Less is More.
And kids will pretty much just wear whatever is on top of their drawer anyway.  NJ parent Kim P. says, “I packed my son 10 bathing suits and he wore the same one every single day!” So your mantra should pretty much be, “Less is more.”

3) But, Always Pack More…
Except maybe when it comes to socks and underwear. Florida mom Christine S. says, “ALWAYS pack more socks and underwear than suggested. Black or grey socks are best. Any white socks you send will come home black or grey anyway.”

4) Don’t Forget to Pack…
Also, pack rain gear in case the weather is rotten. And definitely throw in some bunk decorations like family pictures, posters, string lights, banners, that kind of thing.

You Wish Your Kid Would Use All Those Toiletries

Many newbie parents are appalled at how many unopened toiletries can come home after 8 weeks of summer camp. The poor parent who realizes that her kid’s toothbrush has never actually been opened which of course only leaves two horrifying options… the child didn’t brush her teeth or used someone else’s toothbrush all summer.

5) Pack with your Kids.
So remind your child that you are packing toiletries (like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and deodorant) and encourage them to make use of these wonderful, ground breaking products! NJ mom Kimberly P.  says, “My advice is to pack with your kids so they know what you packed them. I sent 4 extra shampoo bottles and every letter asked for shampoo.”

6) Manage your own Expectations.
But remember, this might not be the summer of good hygiene. As mom Monica B. remembers, “Both my boys said they could count on one hand how many times they brushed their teeth the first summer.” (Yup, let that sink in.) Cori M. had the same experience. “The first year my older son went to camp, he came home after a month and I learned that he only washed his hair three times!”

7) Again, Employ the Less is More Strategy Here.
Florida mom Rachel W. admits she sent way too many toiletries. “When the trunks came home, all of those extra shampoo bottles, body wash, etc. were just thrown in the trunks and of course opened and spilled in the bottom of the trunk.”

8) Buy the Ultimate Camp Toiletry.
Another mom highly recommends 3-in-one shampoo, conditioner and body wash to maximize usage. Good tip!

Increase Your Chances of Getting Letters! (Even if they’re very very short.)

9) Stamps and Envelopes 101.
One mom says you may want to reiterate to your child what those “flag stickers” (otherwise known as STAMPS to the rest us) are for and how they can be used to actually send letters home. You may also want to address and stamp envelopes beforehand to make things even easier.

10) Remember the Silver Lining.
But California mom Jessica H. says don’t waste money on adorable, personalized stationery. Because basically there’s a good chance, it’s never going to leave their suitcase.
If you do get letters, they will likely be very short. Like this one…
Dear Mom and Dad letter from kid away at camp
(Gosh, I hope she started getting a letter or two.)

But not getting a lot of mail from your child is probably a good thing. Jessica H. says, “My experience is, if they’re happy, they won’t have time to write home.”

11) Practice Perspective-Taking.
If you do get a sad letter from your kid, try to put it into perspective. Parent Cori M. says, “Even though it breaks your heart, try to remember that it is just a moment in time for them. And by the time you actually receive the letter, chances are, they’ve moved past that momentary sadness and have gone on to have a great time.”

12) Be a Bore.
As for the letters you send to your child, be sure to write often and make your days sound as boring as possible. New York parent Monica B. says, “You don’t want the kids to feel like they are missing out on anything. She recommends writing letters like, “Today I got my hair cut. Today daddy worked late. Today I went to the supermarket for the first time in 2 weeks.” So I guess that means definitely avoid writing things like, “Mommy and Daddy are having the most fabulous time in Europe!”

Be at Peace with Some of Their Stuff Not Coming Home

All that stuff you packed?  It ain’t all coming home. It’s just not.

13) Don’t Bring Precious Items to Sleepaway Camp.
Sure, the 10 extra bottle of shampoo will come home. But not that treasured lovey. Experienced camp mom Jessica H says,”Don’t send any clothes or stuffed animals or family heirlooms you care about ever seeing again. And anything you do hope to see again gets a label.”

14) Label or Sharpie Everything.
What are some good label companies? The parents we talked to suggested Label Daddy and Mabel’s Labels (but there are lots of good ones out there).

15) And Some Stuff You May Never Want to See Again Anyway!
Florida mom Erin D. says, “Tell your kids to throw all their socks out before they come home.   Trust me – you don’t want them.” And when their trunk comes home, open it right away. Parent Christine S. says, “There will be wet, mildewy items in their luggage upon their return home.” Yuck.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Sometimes when we are panicked about the idea of being separated from our children for an extended amount of time, we tend to funnel our nervous energy into stressing about the little things. But it all works out. NY mother Alexis L. knows from experience. “What I wish I had known ahead of time – that I am the one freaking out whether or not they have the right clothes, stuff, accessories, equipment, not them. Or if they lose something, they don’t care! They are fine! Kids share and if not, there is always visiting day!”


Got a tip for sleepaway camp? Please share with us here!

Photo source: Stocksy/ Margaret Vincent

More Advice for Sleepaway Camp:


Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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Oh my goodness, I laughed SO hard about the socks. Too true1


Can we get more posts about sleepaway camp please??

I never went to camp and I don’t know anyone who did, but if I can research it more, I’ll consider sending my kids. My oldest is 4 and very outgoing and outdoorsy. I think she’d be a good candidate in a couple years. But since I never did it, its kind of a scary idea to me!

Guest Contributor
Alpha Mom (TM)

Thanks for your feedback, April. We have another sleepaway camp post planned for the near future. You can also find more posts to help you in our archives. I think two of the older posts maybe helpful. Just follow this link:


We went for a week every summer from age 9-16 and then I worked at a different camp for 9 weeks the next 3 summers. Keep in mind that Mail may take longer to get to your kid since rural camps may not have regular postal service. Also don’t wait until your kid leaves home to send something. Especially if camp is only a week or two, you want your kid to get letters before the end of camp- and it was nice to have a letter the first day! If the rules say not to bring candy and you… Read more »