Can you hear that? Listen closely. That’s the sound of canvas tents being unfurled like flags of freedom across acres and acres of Canadian greenspace, because summer camp season is upon us! Rejoice; the fun and adventure of summer camp (day-style or sleepaway!) has finally arrived as we bid winter a not-so-sad-to-see-you-go farewell. Summer camp is a tradition for happy campers and Canadian families of all stripes, because we are a people who know not to take summer for granted after experiencing - on average - a 10.5 month winter.
Whether "summer camp" to your family means dropping the kids off each day at a rec centre for daily 9-5 fun, or packing their proverbial trunks for a few weeks in the forest with 100 other kids, there are a few things to keep in mind for successful camp experiences that go beyond “avoid poison ivy,” and “don’t get eaten by bears.”
If you were a happy camper in your childhood (or watched any one of the several 1000s of movies about summer camp) you know the fun to be had. That’s why our first tip is to not convince your possibly camp-resistant child that they are going to OMG LOVE CAMP SO MUCH AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE AS A CHILD. Play it cool, adults. I will tell you right now that your kid thinks you spent summers churning butter and twisting tiny wool dolls from bits of yarn dropped from your mom’s spinning wheel.
Kids are smart in a way that our old people brains cannot comprehend – and, fun fact - like dogs, they can smell fear. You’ll want to back off here and let them discover on their own how much fun camp is. Let them be the ones to make this learning.
I won’t go as far to say reverse psychology is something you’d want to leverage, but perhaps limit your enthusiasm to a few murmured “this looks fun,” and “Yeah; I guess camp is okay,” whilst perusing the camp brochure.
If your child is a first-timer at camp, or perhaps your family decided that one night at the local campground 20 minutes away will be your only destination, know that keeping comfy and dry is one of the biggest challenges outdoor living presents. You’ll want to select clothes your kids can both relax and move around easily in. Look for items that dry quickly, choose comfortable shoes and sandals, and don’t forget pieces that keep you warm once the sun goes down. Rash guards for skin protection while swimming and beach frolicking are also good bets. Look for pieces that double up sun protection when coupled with sunscreen, (tip: Joe Fresh’s summer kids line features pieces with UPF 50 sun protection factor!)
See the bottom of this post for an easy and shareable summer camp clothing shopping list.
The days of walking barefoot, squishing through gooey creek and lake bottoms has passed. Here’s an age test: Has your foot ever touched the spongey, gel-like texture of an algae covered lake floor? Yes? You are over 30. Aqua socks and water shoes were invented to spare our kids this disgusting rite of summer camp passage and has properly gone the way of the Dodo bird.
Aqua socks also protect kid’s feet from sharp or jagged rocks and give some slip protection around wet pool decks. (Hitting one’s head on a deck-side Muskoka chair has also been out of vogue since 1992.)
Sleep away camps will provide all the sustenance your happy camper will need, although most allow some treats and snacks – whether sanctioned or as contraband/trading tools. Having fun outside means an uptick in caloric needs a lot of the time so pack lunches larger than normal in the beginning to find your kid’s camp hunger baseline. More is better here, and you can go dense on a few things like putting more meat in sandwiches, while balancing lighter snacks for grazing.
If you do send food – either in a day camp pack lunch or as a treat - please stick to low-risk foods for allergies. Camp is all about forging bonds and that means sharing everything from secrets to nicknames, to bags of popcorn, so leave the nuts and other risky foods at home.
When it comes to the sun and its effects, here’s your best sunburn protection protocol: Every morning before camp starts, fill your bathtub or a large plastic bin with sunscreen. Submerge up to the neck, and then cover all areas of the head with a thick layer of zinc oxi… wait; that doesn’t seem even remotely doable. Okay, reset. This is all to say that along with clothing your kid can actually be comfortable and have fun wearing, sun protection is paramount to living your best happy camper life.
This from a woman who spend 3 of 7 days of her Bahamian honeymoon in agony because she was too cheap to pay for hotel gift shop sunscreen when she forgot hers at home.
So: slather it on. And then add some more. Rub it in well so kids don’t slide out of their car seats, but make sure you apply liberally and do it 30 minutes before they go outside so it has full effect. Try a spray-on if they hate lotions (some do) and apply to hands and then rub onto little faces. Let them choose sunglasses they’ll actually wear and don’t forget hats!
We need the sun (we’re Canadian, so doubly so) and if you’re properly prepared, there is no reason to fear it. Summer fun comes from an easy formula: sun protection + moveable, comfy, cool clothing + the great Canadian outdoors = HAPPY CAMPERS.