Every summer camp application comes with a packing list but, according to camp directors, parents should also pack some unexpected and entertaining items along with the necessities like extra socks and bug spray.
“We always encourage our parents to make the camp packing process fun,” said Aaron Cantor, director of Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, W.Va., a program run by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
“We will send our parents a notice that says, ‘Here are our color war colors for the summer. You might want to pack a few of those,’” Cantor said. “We basically (tell parents to) think about the types of things that (they) enjoyed before technology. Those are great things to send to camp.”
Rachel Felber, director of Camp Wise in Claridon Township, about 170 miles northeast of Columbus, said campers often bring items to share with their friends and cabinmates.
“Glow necklaces and glow sticks are fun,” Felber said. “Maybe bring enough for the whole cabin to wear. That creates a whole bonding experience for the group.”
Felber said Camp Wise is a place where children can express their individuality with wardrobe choices that go beyond the traditional T-shirts and shorts.
“Camp is a space that truly allows kids to be the best version of themselves, or whatever version of themselves they want to be,” she said. “At Camp Wise, we celebrate things like costumes. If you want to wear a tutu every day for the whole summer, go for it. No one questions you. We celebrate you.”
Max Yamson, director at Camp Livingston, a camp in Bennington, Ind., affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, said campers might plan ahead and bring items to celebrate the Fourth of July.
“Bring red, white and blue items,” he said. “We’ve seen everything from fairy wings to headbands.”
The Wilds, a conservation park managed by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Cumberland, about 90 minutes east of Columbus, offers the usual outdoor activities, like swimming and hiking, while also teaching kids about wildlife. While musically-inclined children are encouraged to bring a musical instrument to camp, like a harmonica or a guitar, Emily Knapp, an education coordinator for the summer camps, cautioned campers need to understand when such things should be used.
“Around the campfire is fine,” she said. “On safari, probably not a great idea.”
If parents are sending their children to Camp Livingston, Cantor said there is one item that has become a camp tradition, which is not on the packing list.
“A onesie,” he said, referring to the jumper-style pajamas that are popular with children and teens. “We have ‘Onesie Wednesdays’ here just to be silly.”
And, although children may be anticipating their best summer ever, even the most seasoned campers occasionally yearn for home.
“Bring things to decorate the bunk,” Yamson suggested, like photos of the family or a beloved pet that can help ease any homesickness.
After everything on the packing list has been checked off, the element of surprise can be fun for campers. Cantor suggested parents tuck a few unexpected things in the child’s bag.
“Hiding fun notes in books or clothing is always good,” Cantor said. “And some parents still send bar soap. Hide something in the bar soap so you can see if the kid actually used it.”
Perhaps the best thing parents can give their kids before going to camp is a positive attitude, the camp directors suggested.
“The campers who leave with the best experience come into the camp week knowing that their parents believe they are going to have the best week,” Knapp said. “The conversations before camp are just (like), ‘We know you are going to have a great time, and we can’t wait to hear all the cool stories you are going to have from camp.’”
Nona Nelson writes for the Columbus Jewish News from Delaware.