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Tips for Transitioning to Sleepaway Camp

Whether this is your child’s first summer at sleep away camp, or he/she is a veteran camper, the transition from home to camp can be intimidating. Given that children with sensory processing problems struggle with transitions in general, the transition away from the comfort and predictability of home can be daunting. Listed below are several tips to increase your child’s comfort level and ease the transition.

  1.  Tour the camp grounds ahead of time, if possible, so that your child can become familiar with the physical surroundings and the layout of the camp. Alternatively, take a virtual tour online and view pictures of key sites on the camp’s website.

  2. Get a sample schedule/calendar to review with your child to familiarize him/her with a typical camp day. While each day will likely have different scheduled activities, many key times of day remain constant, such as wake up, meals, and curfew. 

  3. Involve your child in the process of packing and preparing for camp. It will be comforting for your child to know what is in his/her trunk. Place a checklist on the inside of the trunk listing every item that is packed. Have your child mark each box so that he/she knows with certainty that the necessary items will be there. Participating in the packing process will empower your child to feel ownership over the decision to go to camp. 

  4. Help your child stay organized by clearly labeling all belongings, not just clothing. Consider using a bold color to help it stand out. 

  5. Role-play scenarios that are likely to be anxiety provoking for your child. 

  6. If you anticipate that your child will have difficulty falling asleep, send music and headphones along so he/she can tune out background noise. Stick to peaceful, relaxing music selections. 

  7. Allow your child to bring familiar, comforting items from home, such as a favorite book or stuffed animal. 

  8. Send photos of family, pets, and friends so that your child can personalize his/her area in the bunk. 

  9. Plan ahead for downtime (e.g., rest hour, rainy days and send your child with games and toys so that he/she has available options to fill the time without floundering (such as books, games, cards, Mad Libs, etc). 

  10.  Find out ahead of time whether your child’s camp uses a mail or an email system for communicating with parents at home. Plan in advance by either practicing how to use email and type a message, or help your child prepare envelopes that are pre-addressed and stamped to simplify the process once he/she is in camp. 

  11.  Role-play scenarios that are likely to be anxiety provoking for your child.

  12.  Camp counselors are teenagers, and division heads and head counselors are responsible for many children. Be proactive. Inform the camp and the counselors of specific strategies that work for your child. For example, if you know that your child is hypersensitive to loud noises, arrange for your child to have the choice to opt out of certain activities (e.g. fireworks).  

Written by: Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR and Chaye Lamm Warburg, DPS, Director of POTS

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