Going to camp for the first time is a huge deal. Here’s what your kids should know how to do before they have their best summer ever.

1. Eat Right

Without you around to police their plate, kids can suffer the consequences of poor eating, from fatigue and tummy upsets to sugar highs and headaches. Show them how to make smart food choices. (“Think about what dinner looks like at home…”) Remind your campers to go easy on the sweets and junk food, and fill up on complex carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables instead.

2. Spot Poison Ivy

You know the drill, but do your kids? If it’s green and has three leaves, stay away from it. Even though it may just be a harmless Virginia Creeper, you don’t want to take any chances. Teach them to wash with soap and water immediately if they come into contact with something suspicious, and keep an eye out for any rashes.

3. Medicate a Headache

Camps handle over-the-counter medications differently, so if your children regularly take things like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl or Claritin for common aches or allergies, you should ask what the procedure is. Most places require that all medicine be dispensed through the camp infirmary, but others permit kids to treat minor aches and pains with OTC remedies brought from home. If the camp allows self-medication and you’re comfortable with it, teach your kids how to determine the correct dosage (amount and frequency) for everything you pack. Write it on the bottle, and don’t forget to tell them to let a counselor know when they need these medicines.

4. Find Help

Whether they’re on a hike in the woods or in the middle of a lake, make sure kids know how (and who) to ask for help. They should feel comfortable going to their counselors if someone is sick or injured, if they need to talk because they’re homesick, or if they’re feeling bullied.

5. Check for Ticks

Ticks may carry Lyme disease, which can have long-lasting health consequences. Make sure they know how to identify a tick and how to do regular self-checks in a bathroom mirror.

6. Swim

If you’re sending your kid to a camp with a lake or pool, double-check they at least know how to doggie-paddle. Sure, they’ll take swim lessons while they’re there, but making sure they know water safety if they’re out in a canoe is extremely important.

7. Keep Their Bunk Clean

Your campers may not be the neatest residents ever at home, but in a bunk they’ll definitely need to learn how to clean, stay organized and make a bed. Remind them that leaving food out attracts unwanted creepy crawlies, not to mention the fact that it grosses out their cabin mates.

8. Do Laundry

Teach them how to do basic washing—from spot-treating to full loads using detergent and dryer sheets. This way clean socks and underwear are at least an option…even if they wind up passing on it.

9. Take a Shower

Tween campers are notorious for their disregard for personal hygiene—aka, daily showers, tooth-brushing and deodorant use. These trivial-to-them daily rituals are sometimes easily overlooked in the morning rush. After all, what’s a little body odor between friends?  But because campers are often embarrassed by hygiene talk, it’s a tricky issue for counselors to handle. Make sure they know that proper cleanliness is non-negotiable.

10. Know Your Number

Tell your campers how to get in touch with you in case of an emergency. Have them memorize your phone number, just to be safe.

Cathy Ashby is a former summer camp counselor and administrator. 

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