For parents of campers heading to sleepaway camp, spring can mean a whole lot of shopping, finding duffel bags, labeling clothes, packing.
And then they’re off.
And then it’s time to think about popping a little something in the mail so your camper can have the thrill of receiving a care package.
But what to send? How much and how often?
Moderation is the word to keep in mind, warns Amy Broadbridge, director of Camp Deerhorn in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Her camp has tried to deemphasize care packages in recent years.
“Because honestly, care packages at camp have kind of gotten out of control. Parents feel pressure to send multiple care packages and they have to all be awesome,” she says. Camp Deerhorn asks parents to send only one care package per summer. The idea is to emphasize the camper’s independence and focus on the camp experience itself.
So hold back on the frequency, and think about the following guidelines:
In all likelihood, no food
This is a pretty universal rule among camps, for some very good reasons. Broadbridge says, “We have life-threatening allergies, and woodland creatures who love to come into cabins to hunt for food.” Her camp’s ban on food in care packages includes all candy and gum, but not all parents (or grandparents) stick to the rules. Camp staff looks for candy in tricky places.
If your camp does allow food care packages, it will likely have strict guidelines, which you should follow closely.
Broadbridge recommends sending items that kids can play with friends and cabinmates, such as Frisbees and other outdoor games, Mad Libs, joke books and playing cards.
Isaac Baumfeld, camp director of French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts in Hancock, New York, suggests pick-up sticks, a small chess set and hacky sacks.
If you are thinking of sending the whole cabin a gift, make sure you know how many kids are in it (send one extra, just in case). Ideas for group gifts include fun sunglasses, flashlights, glow sticks, necklaces or funny socks. The gifts should be cute and fun but not show-offy or expensive (no EarPods!).
Lauren Bayne of Austin, Texas, loves sending care packages to her two boys, now 10 and 13, and remembers receiving great packages from her mother. She says she has gone overboard in the past and is paring her shipments back.
“Campers love getting anything during mail delivery, so you can keep it small and novel and they’ll be just as excited,” she says.
One of her go-to gifts is to get card-stock prints made of a good group photo of the cabin campers (usually posted by the camp online for parents). She sends a stack with her son’s contact information on it for him to share with friends and collect their info.
For quieter moments, when your camper might need to recharge and have some alone time, Broadbridge suggests puzzles like Rubik’s cubes, books, comics, and markers, pens and paper. Baumfeld adds: a camp journal, small plush animals, collapsible water bottle, yo-yo, a slinky, a small fan.
Bayne sends puzzle books to her kids: Sudoku, crosswords, word searches and so on.
Should you forget an essential when packing for camp, it will be more than welcome in the mail. Your campers may not ask for a rain poncho or a flashlight, but when it gets rainy or they have to do something at night, they will be happy to have them. My kids always ended up with one sock at the end of their camp stay, and a six-pack of fresh socks mid-session was greeted with more enthusiasm than you might think.
If your kid is working on something particular at camp, think about sending something to support their hobby: new guitar strings, a magic trick, or a can of fresh tennis balls, for instance.
What not to send
Broadbridge says her “No’s” include anything that creates division among campers or makes a mess. Things like silly string, water balloons, squirt guns, sling shots, pranks or gags “will all cause problems more than they will create fun,” she says. And no silly putty or slime either. “Once that gets on clothes and fleece blankets, it’s over.”
Care package websites
Many companies provide ready-made care packages. They include: Sealed with a Kiss, the Wrinkled Egg, Mirth in a Box, Everything Summer Camp and Oriental Trading Co.
But remember, less is more. Camp is a wonderful and often formative experience, and it shouldn’t be cluttered with too much outside stuff.
As Broadbridge says, “The gift is camp itself, and that’s what we try to focus on.”