Blog Series: From Camp Director to Camp Parent: Booking My Son’s First Sleepaway Camp Session

Growing up at our camp: Mason with his dad and younger brother out canoeing.

Editor’s Note:  From Camp Director to Camp Parent is my new blog series chronicling my (and my son’s) experience(s) as a  first-time camp parent and a first-time camper. I envisioned this series as a way to empathize with first-time camp parents now that I find myself on the other side of that camp registration and awaiting coming camp experience. I hope you’ll follow along with me and my son as we take this first step into the (not entirely unknown) camp world. Below you’ll find out how we came to decide for him to attend a short one-week sleepaway camp (that is similar in duration and in age-group to Camp Alleghany’s Mini Camp for Girls). Throughout the spring and into the summer I’ll update you with all those first-time camp parent issues and concerns that I experience along with how my son, Mason, is taking it all. Please subscribe to the blog and follow along.

I’ve written for a while about a couple of things that are now converging. One big topic of mine is the The benefits of Mini Camp (and sleepaway summer camps in general). The second is making sure that I share your concerns about trusting your child to a camp, our camp in particular.

I’ve always said that because I’m a parent too, I get it. And I DO!

But now, as my eldest son Mason prepares to go off for his first “mini-camp-like” adventure this summer, I can totally relate to you and yours when it comes specifically to sending your child away to a sleepaway camp. It’s not a one night sleepover. It’s not grandma’s house. It’s a week or more away from home with totally new people and places (in most circumstances).

So I thought I’d share my journey in this new letting go process — both to offer some insight into my approach as a parent, but also to help emphasize that as a camp director, I REALLY DO get it — it’s hard to trust in the unknown!

Of course I know from Camp Alleghany for Girls’ side that our Mini Campers have a stupendous time in a remarkable program. But how can YOU know that?

And how can I know that Mason will be ready, willing, and eager for his own sort of “mini camp” experience? Well, research, questions, observation, and yes, trust.

So how did I get started with planning for Mason’s first one-week sleepaway summer camp?

Well, first of all, having grown up at camp and working in the industry for over a decade I KNOW sleepaway summer camp is essential to a child’s whole education. I’m already predisposed to embrace sleepaway camp.

But this is my baby we’re talking about! So in some sense I felt like I was at square one on this whole camp thing, too. Okay, maybe square 2. But very early on in…er, the squares!

How it all got started

Growing up at our camp: Mason in the summer.

I was talking to some camp director friends last year, and they mentioned that they have 6-year olds attend their one-week sleepaway camp session. It got me thinking about Mason, and how he would be 6 this year — gosh it flies by so fast — and maybe his going off to a one-week camp would be something to consider.

So we started off by taking a day off from camp last summer to go visit the camp as a family and take a tour. This was done a little bit more for my husband Matt, since he’s less exposed to the camp world in general 😉 – I knew I would be fine with it!

But we also wanted Mason to see the camp and campers and get a sense of a camp other than his familiar ‘Ghany (where he has grown up for the past five summers) and to see other camp kids in action.

This was the first time I realized something TOTALLY from a parent’s point of view — how it can be important sometimes for prospective campers to come take a tour in the summer. Familiarity is important. Face-to-face contact in a digitally-dominated world matters. It’s a great way to become acquainted!

We had a blast that day. Mason saw all the activities in action, we ate lunch in their dining  hall, and even walked away with some tee shirts.

Since we already have a trunk ready for Mason, we started talking about how he could use it at his camp, and discussed which activities he thought he would take, and just explored the idea of his being away at a different camp in general.

Then I let it go for a few months and didn’t push it — we had a new baby, a new school year started, etc. Other things were on our minds.

But knowing that camps can fill up early, I brought it up again late last fall and asked Mason if he’d like “to go to that camp we visited” for a week. Well he didn’t miss a beat, having remembered the camp visit vividly. He enthusiastically said “Yes!”

But to test the waters, I asked again a week later, and again a week after that, and he consistently said yes. We were on board, he was on board, it was all very exciting. But I still wanted to see how Mason would fare “going away” somewhere for that night that was out of his comfort zone.

Deep Is the Night

Growing up at our camp: Mason experiencing Alleghany’s traditions.

For me, the next logical step was to set up a couple of sleepovers at friends’ houses. This was my second “camp parent” realization — the importance of knowing your child is ready to spend the night away from extended family members. Grandma’s is a breeze. Sleepovers with the cousins — been there done that. But what about completely new overnight experiences? We needed to see that in action.

And I’m proud to say it was a resounding success! He’s now had two sleepovers at his two best buddies’ homes, both without a single issue. Phew, relief!

Now both Matt and I were convinced that a one-week camp experience would not only be fine, it would likely be as great as Mini Camp at Camp Alleghany for Girls. (The irony that as a director of a girls camp I have three sons!) 🙂

Signing Up

Now on to registering. Mason’s would-be camp uses the same camp management and registration software that we do, called CampMinder.

Let me tell you how weird it was to be on the parent side of it! I was filling out the registration and answering questions about Mason and I have to admit, I kept thinking to myself, “Okay, as the camp director, how specific would I want the parent to be with this question?” It was such a bizarre crossing over experience, where I was finally on the other side of it, yet with all my knowledge and experience as a camp director to draw on.

So I made it through (and was probably crazy-levels of thorough in my answers) and with that experience complete, now it’s only a matter of the countdown!

Countdown to Camp

Mason is THRILLED and talks a lot about what activities he’s excited to do, but mostly talks about how excited he is to meet new friends.

I recently caught up with several of his camp’s staff and directors at the recent American Camp Association Tri-State Camp Conference, and it made me even more excited for Mason to begin this “mini camp of his own” camp journey.

Growing up at our camp: Mason shows off his target.

I’m also excited to finally be able to totally, 100%, absolutely relate to parents about first time camp experiences, and to say “my 6-year old son is going off to mini camp of his own for a week this summer, too!”

In the advertising world they call this whole process “drinking your own kool-aid” or even more picturesquely, “eating your own dog food.” As colorful as those phrases are, they simply mean you’re not asking anything from your customers that you wouldn’t do yourself. I’m glad to finally be there — this kool-aid and dog food tastes great, er, something like that!

What it extra especially means to me in a practical sense is that it helps me so much in parent communication, especially when discussing our Mini Camp at Camp Alleghany for Girls. A first-time camp experience for the youngest camper and often a first-time parent is a big deal. I know, I’m living it and so is my husband and Mason and our two younger boys are watching and learning, too!

I’m really excited for the next steps and, as I said, will blog about those as well. I’ll take on topics like getting him all ready (medical forms, packing lists, etc), opening day/dropping him off, and then of course being the parent who is so excited for her son and waiting for all the stories and life skills he’ll bring home.

I don’t know who’s more excited — me or Mason!

I’d love to hear your Mini Camp readiness stories in the comments field below!

And if you want to learn more about the benefits of Mini Camp at Camp Alleghany for Girls, please download my FREE e-book, “3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Journey Early.” It’s a helpful resource all about our Mini Camp and sleepaway camp in general. I know you’ll love it!

— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls