Sleepaway camp checklist: How to get your child ready

Kids who learn and think differently may benefit from extra preparation when it comes to sleepaway camp. Here’s a list of things you can do to help your child get ready.

Sleepaway camp can be a great experience for kids who learn and think differently. But it can also be a little scary. For some it may be their first time away from home. For others, the idea of spending so much time with other campers may make them feel anxious.

If sleepaway camp is an option for your family, here’s how you can prepare.

Camp basics

  • Ask the camp director for the daily schedule your child’s group will be following.

  • Ask the camp director for a list of camp vocabulary, like the name of the building where the campers eat.

  • Make sure important information (like your child’s medicines and food allergies) is sent to the camp and that the head cabin counselor has a copy.

  • Make sure your child has necessary items like a flashlight or a sleeping bag. You may be able to borrow these items from friends.

  • Talk with your child about what camp is like. Also talk about what it’ll be like to meet the staff and other kids.

  • When you drop your child off, try to make your exit quick and positive. Offer smiles, not tears.

Learning and thinking differences

  • Speak with the head cabin counselor about your child’s learning and thinking differences.

  • Tell them to contact you if anything happens with your child that you might be able to help them understand or fix.

  • Find out what skills your child needs to clean the cabin. You can even practice at home.

  • Role-play scenarios that might come up, like homesickness, bedwetting, or arguments with another camper. Make a list together of who your child can talk with at camp if something upsetting happens.

  • Look through all the activities your child can choose from. Make sure your child understands what each activity is, and that trying new things is part of the fun.

  • Talk with your child about strategies that have helped with following directions and routines.


  • Send a letter the week before camp starts so it’s waiting for your child.

  • Plan something fun and relaxing for your child’s last night before camp.

  • Make sure your child knows that anxiety and homesickness are normal feelings that all campers face, even experienced ones. But those feelings go away.

  • Be positive about the experience. Express that you’re confident in your child’s ability to handle camp, even during difficult times.

  • Emphasize that you’re sending your child “to camp” or “to a special experience” — not “away from home.”

  • Don’t make promises about camp that you can’t keep, like “If you’re not having a good time, you can always come home.” Or “I’m sure we’ll be allowed to visit if you’re having a hard time.”

  • Not all camps allow cell phones. If your child’s camp allows them, find out how many times your child is allowed to call home, and try to keep it limited. Frequent phone calls can increase homesickness.

With the right preparation, your child can have a great camp experience — and may even want to return next summer. Here are camp options to consider.

For more summer camp resources, check out this summer guide for families.


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