As you would imagine, the staff at FJC has packed and unpacked a lot of camp trunks – as campers themselves, parents of campers, and of course, as counselors. This is no small task. Parents, I know that over the next few weeks you’ll be packing up your happy campers so I’ve come to offer some help (unfortunately, only via this blog, not literally).
By now, you have picked out your trunks (they may look big now because they’re empty, but just wait) and ordered your name labels. I spend weeks thinking about the piles of clothes hoping that if I wish it hard enough CampMinder or Bunk 1 will figure out a way to pack your bags for you, not just schedule a pick-up. But of course, that never happens.
First and foremost, be organized! If you really knew me, this would make you laugh – really, really hard. I don’t know how to be organized – except when it comes to packing for camp. So, here is the best of my advice and those from my colleagues, wrapped into a nice care package for my fellow parents out there:
- Live the list. I take the camp packing list and create an excel file, then I add all the “must-haves” my kids come home “needing” year after year. If it is your child’s first summer, talk to other camp parents about their kid’s favorite clothing items, games, bunk decorations, etc. that you may not think of or know about. Each camp has certain traditions and “nice-to-haves” that aren’t on the official packing list and some items that may be prohibited at one camp are all-important at another. (For example, my girls love their Crazy Creek chairs and other camps don’t allow them). I also mark down what items I send more of than the list asks for – somehow four bathing suits just doesn’t seem to be enough.
- Read carefully. Make sure you really read the list and the parent handbook before your start packing. Many camps only allow one-piece or tankini bathing suits for girls, or ask for special clothing for Shabbat. Make a note of your camps technology policy and plan accordingly.
- Label! Label! Label! There are a zillion different options out there – sew-in, iron-on, stick-on. Figure out what works best for you (confession – I just use a Sharpie– a black for most things and a silver metallic for dark items). Make sure everything including all shoes, sports equipment, and towels have a name on them. It is shocking that one sneaker can find its way into a Lost & Found bin, or that kids don’t recognize their lacrosse sticks when a camp director holds it up from the front of the dining hall.
- Talk to other parents. Seek out parents and ask about what their kids wear at camp. Many camps are in the mountains or by a lake, making mornings and evenings cool. We have seen many kids wear rain boots and Uggs to breakfast with their sweats and PJ bottoms. Some camps have post-Shabbat dancing with crazy costumes. That doesn’t mean run out and buy stuff – look around your house for fun wigs and crazy t-shirts, they always come in handy. Each camp is different so find out what clothes the campers at your child’s camp wouldn’t leave home without.
- Pack with your child. Make sure they know exactly what is going in the trunk and what isn’t. If there is a favorite item going to camp with them, make sure they know where to find it and drill into their heads that certain things need to come home. Also explain to them what isn’t allowed or if there are rules for certain items (such as electronics) that are going with them.
- Make it easy for everyone. At some camps, the trunks arrive early, counselors unpack for the kids and voila – your kid is ready to go the second they step off the bus. Others, you do the unpacking when you drop your kids off. Either way, a little pre-thought goes a long way. USE ZIPLOCK BAGS. I pack all the socks in one, shorts in others, t-shirts… This way, whoever is doing the unpacking has a little less work to do and nothing is floating around in the trunk. If your child needs a special outfit (Shabbat, banquet, whatever) pack that in a separate, labeled Ziplock bag so they know where to find it.
- Get sock laundry bags. These could be one of the best camp inventions ever. Teach your child to put their socks in a smaller laundry bag and put that right in the camp laundry. Then on laundry day, they are not sorting and pairing up socks with 15 other kids. (Perhaps they will use this extra time to actually write you a letter…)
- Under bed storage. Some camps suggest you bring under-the-bed boxes or plastic drawers. If you send them, pre-pack the boxes how you envision your child using them. I also pre-pack the shower caddy, toiletries, whatever I can. I show my kids what is where and how I packed the extras like soap, shampoo, shoelaces, and sunscreen (again make sure you are protecting the things in the trunk from leaks by using Ziplock bags).
- Batteries. Don’t forget to pack lots of these essential little items – and show your kids how to change the batteries in their flashlights and fans.
- WE WANT COLOR WAR! Pack a shirt in each color of the color war/Maccabiah/Olymics team that the camp has. This way your child doesn’t have to search around when color war breaks (I never had anything green and always ended up on the green team). I send some face paint, bandanas, and mustaches in different colors as well. Party City has a great section with all sorts of fun stuff by color if you want to send some extras.
- Costumes. You may be told to send your child to camp with a costume for a special event but I always also pack a white t-shirt and a Sharpie – instant costume for any occasion.
- Be organized! Organization really starts the day the kids come home from camp. Make a note of what got used and what didn’t. If half the sweatshirts are still folded just how you sent them or the socks are still paired up and white, don’t send as many the following summer. I make note of what I need more or less of and leave it in the trunks so I find it each spring (consider it a love note to yourself).
Well now that I’ve shared some packing wisdom with you, I think it is time to get off my tush and take this advice. Anyone want to come help?