The Savvy Camp Parent: Pack Lightly to Maximize a Sense of Summer Adventure

No one at your kids’ camp is hoping you will over-pack. Camp staff are busy scheduling the type of summer adventures that make lifelong memories. So resist the urge to over-pack your kids for camp. Keep your approach simple. Here are a few tips that will make your job easier and save you money and headaches.

Be A Follower. Heed the camp packing list, even if you don’t understand every piece of advice. The staff has done this before, and they know what is necessary and what is not. If you have a question, send an email in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack. Divide and conquer the list early by laying everything out where it can be checked and double-checked. Expect it to all come back home in a jumble, of course.

Think Duffel Bag. If your camp does not tell you how to pack, invest in a large, sturdy duffel bag and do not overfill it. You want to leave a bit of room for everything to come home after camp when it’s not packed as well as you packed it. In fact, tuck a collapsible nylon bag into one of the duffel bag pockets. It’s sure to come in handy on the way home. If your camp requires a trunk, consider a soft trunk for easier mobility.

Go With Worn. Don’t go on a spending spree and send your child to camp with a whole new wardrobe. These clothes will likely come home stained and ripped, if they even all make it home at all. Suffice it to say, pack old clothing that won’t be missed if it does not return. Anything of irreplaceable sentimental value needs to stay home, even if it’s just an old t-shirt. Send favorites as long as they are replaceable. Have a variety of appropriate shoes. And if you buy new shoes, definitely break them in before camp.

Label Almost Everything. Use a black laundry marker or a silver Sharpie for black items. If you shop online, you can find a white laundry marker that will last a couple of years. But don’t go so far as labeling socks. Buy inexpensive socks of the same type and make sure your camper can identify them. Keep markings simple for most things by using three initials. No need to be over the top; however, you should mark important items like boots, sneakers and water bottles with full names. Also, label luggage.

Like Lightweight Layers. Even if it will be cool or even cold at night, resist the urge to pack a parka. Go with lightweight layers. A t-shirt, sweatshirt and waterproof shell are plenty warm enough for active kids. For cooler locations, fleece is lightweight and warm. Jeans may not sound fierce, but they will come in handy on cool nights by the fire. Don’t forget a camp chair for damp mornings and evenings outdoors. And if you are going to pack anything extra, consider socks and underwear, a second bathing suit and a backup water bottle. They won’t take up much room.

Expect Damp. Sleeping bags should be easy to dry in the sun, just in case. Pack any stationary, books and papers in zip-top bags. You can separate small clothing into zip-top bags when packing. Include a few spare zip-top bags in a pocket to sort laundry into while at camp. Remind your camper not to zip anything damp into a plastic bag to avoid mildew.

Repel Critters Naturally. Make sure camp cabins are animal-proof before sending candy or snacks. Beware of ants and other bugs. When packing toiletries, invest in insect-repelling natural brands for shampoo, conditioner and soap. You can always transfer liquids into small, spill-proof containers and leave the remainder at home. Natural scents that discourage bugs include tea tree, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint and lemongrass. Try bath products with these scents and also pack traditional insect repellent.

Ease Pressure. I am sure you want your kids to write to you from camp, so include self-addressed postcards or stationery. Then when drop-off day arrives, squeeze those campers tight, tell them you love them and let them off the hook to enjoy a summer camp experience of their own creation. They may not write or call or even think of you much, and that’s okay. If they send one piece of mail, let it be enough until they return. The less they think about you and home, the better job you did packing them up for independence.

What To Bring To Camp

  • Extra socks and underwear
  • Extra spill-proof water bottle
  • Extra bathing suit
  • Nylon laundry bag
  • Bathroom/shower caddy
  • Headlamp or flashlight and batteries
  • Disposable camera
  • Towels and bed linens
  • Camp chair
  • Raincoat or poncho
  • Sunglasses
  • Waterproof sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Feminine protection
  • Insect repellant
  • Backup glasses or contacts
  • Pre-addressed stationery
  • A good book
  • Playing cards and small games
  • A few personal items (family photos, stuffed animal, twinkle lights)

Save On Camp Supplies

  • Forget what other kids bring
  • Rock those hand-me-downs
  • Borrow from friends or neighbors
  • Shop resale
  • Search for online coupons
  • Leave irreplaceable things at home
  • Break shoes in well
  • Bring enough, but not too much
  • Focus on enjoying the experience

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How Children Find Their Purpose At Camp

We all want our children to be happy and successful. Would you believe that letting them spread their own wings—without us by their side—may be the most effective way to do this? Our job as parents is to give our children the tools they need to go out in the world and discover who they are and what they want to become–their purpose in life. A child can only truly grow if given some freedom and the chance to gain confidence by exploring new ideas and activities.

The Gift Of Sleep Away Camp

What better place for children to begin this process than sleep away camp? Sending children away for camp may seem daunting at first, but if you ask anyone who has spent several weeks bunking with their friends, they will tell you how it positively transformed their life and how lucky they are that their parents gave them that gift.

According to Michael Thompson, a clinical psychologist and author of Homesick and Happy, How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, “…parents can sometimes seriously impede their children’s development. As a parent, there are many things you cannot do for your children. You cannot give your child confidence, you cannot pick or manage his or her friendships, you cannot always be his or her advocate/agent/manager/coach. …and most important, parents have a hard time urging their children to take psychological risks.”

Thompson goes on to explain how sleep away camp succeeds at doing all these things and how critical it is that children and teens have these experiences. He says that true independence is something parents cannot give their children; they must live it on their own.

Benefits of Sleep Away Camp

There are five invaluable aspects of sleep away camp that can lead children and teens to discover their purpose:


One of the most important benefits of sleep away camp is that children build confidence and self-esteem while living away from their parents. These positive attributes stem from belonging, learning and contributing. Camps provide many unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three areas: 1) they belong to their sports team and bunk; 2) they learn from trying new activities and making new friends; and 3) they contribute by helping during meals and serving as team leaders.

Camp also provides ways for children to feel a sense of accomplishment. When they succeed, they are empowered and have more confidence when faced with the next challenge. They also learn from their mistakes and failures, which only makes them more resilient in the future. Also, the kind of encouragement kids receive at camp makes it the perfect environment for them to overcome setbacks, try new things and see improvement. Some camp experiences even allow them to conquer their fears, whether it be learning to swim in a lake or climbing a ropes course.

Finally, many children will purposely choose to attend camp where they do not know any other campers when they arrive. This special experience gives them a chance to start fresh and explore who they truly are in an unfamiliar environment. All of this confidence-building brings them closer to figuring out their interests and goals.

Broader Perspective

At camp, children begin to see the world a bit differently. They are away from their comfort zone and exposed to new people and experiences that give them a new, broader perspective. They realize they are part of something bigger than themselves and their immediate family. They meet people from different backgrounds, locations and interests. They may participate in community service projects that they would not have otherwise had the chance to do. Sleep away camp is so valuable in how it introduces children to fresh ways of seeing the world and themselves.


Children benefit from being part of the special community found at sleep away camp. It gives them a sense of belonging, which will ultimately improve their ability to cooperate, contribute and serve their future communities as caring citizens. Campers also gain new social skills from being in a group setting. They must share a room with others, manage chores, resolve conflicts, communicate effectively and be kind and accommodating to their fellow campers. Being part of a close-knit community can be challenging at times, but children who learn how to adapt and get along with others will benefit for a lifetime.

Peter Scales, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the Search Institute in Minneapolis, says, “Camp activities and group living in a natural environment are the tools used to create camp communities that provide for successful, healthy development… They learn to work together, make choices, take responsibility, develop creative skills, build independence and self-reliance, and gain confidence. All are necessary steps on a child’s path to a healthy, productive life.”


Sleep away camp is chock full of unique activities and events that children can’t find anywhere else. Going to camp allows them to learn new skills, whether it be in sports, art or outdoor exploration. Being exposed to so many new programs enhances their knowledge and capabilities, allowing them to get closer to finding what they enjoy most.

Camp also helps children become more independent. They learn how to make their own decisions without parents and teachers always telling them what to do. They are expected to manage daily chores, show up on time for activities and keep their belongings neat and clean. These are lifelong skills that will help them succeed in whatever they do.



The school year is a busy time, but camp provides a chance for kids to slow down and listen to their own thoughts. Camp is the perfect environment for self-reflection and meditation because kids unplug and soak in the beautiful nature around them. When kids take a break from television, video games, texting and surfing online, they become more mindful of their surroundings and their own emotions. They are able to focus on the simple things in life, like going for a hike, watching a sunset, singing around the campfire, and talking in depth to their friends.

Camp also provides a time for unstructured play. Campers are encouraged to use their creativity to solve problems and have fun. They learn how to keep busy with activities that have been used for centuries, such as swimming and boating in a lake, woodworking and theater performances. This carefree living gives them a chance to relax and laugh without the pressures of their hectic, overly scheduled lives back home. This change of pace can lead to emotional and spiritual growth.

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Earth Day Events and More in Flagler County

For Flagler County parents looking for ways to celebrate Earth Day with their youngsters, there are a host of activities shaping up to commemorate the annual event.

The Friends of Washington Oaks Gardens State Park will again host its annual Earth Day Event Saturday, April 22, at the state park in Flagler County.

The annual event includes environmental education booths, a kids’ section, arts & crafts vendors, food vendors and live entertainment, and the gift shop will be open. Admission to the park is $5 per vehicle.

The 425-acre Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River along State Road A1A in Palm Coast. It boasts towering live oaks, hickory and magnolia trees, as well as 20 acres of formal gardens in which guests can stroll.

Meanwhile, Flagler-Palm Coast High School is planning a host of activities that they will be incorporating throughout Earth Day week, 4/17-4/21.

A “tree” will be constructed in the cafe area (using paper and creative minds). Students will write about one way they can contribute to helping keep our Earth healthy on a cut out of a leaf. The Student Government Association’s environment committee will add those leaves to the tree.

There will also be a presentation playing on the TVs in the cafeteria of the beautiful and varied natural landscapes of the Earth.

The environment committee will also install a large bulletin board painted in honor of Earth Day and host a scavenger hunt with clues around the school. The first person to successfully collect all the items on the list will win a prize. All participants will receive candy rewards. The first clue or starting point will be on the Bulletin Board.

Also, interested FPC students will be given “start-up kits” to grow a tree if they sign the pledge to plant one this year.

The ecology-minded students also plan to grow four examples of seeds in different stages of germination to use as a display.

Interactive—and fun— carnival-style games will be conducted during lunch. For example, a tree will be painted on a poster board with a hole cut out. Students can compete to toss pine cones through the hole in the tree. Students can also guess the sound that will be played on the speakers in the cafeteria (i.e., birds chirping, rivers flowing, volcanoes erupting, etc.)

Student government students also are planning an initiative to boost interest and participation in the events planned for throughout the week. For further information, check the school’s website.

The City of Palm Coast is hosting its annual Arbor Day event on Saturday, May 6, at Central Park in Town Center. This is an annual favorite with a live butterfly release, tons of booths, food trucks, axe throwing, a petting zoo and more.

There are no specific Earth Day events, but coinciding with April 22, the city has two community events slated:  from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Fire Station 25 will be the location for the Fire Department’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Then, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., the city will host a Puppapalooza event for people and their dogs at Holland Park.

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Camp Ready: Am I Ready to Send My Child to Overnight Camp?

As the van pulled away, I wanted nothing more than to change my mind. I wanted to pull my kids back to me, bring them home and keep them with me forever. Instead, I stood there watching them go, watching until the van was out of sight, watching just a few minutes longer as my eyes filled with the tears I had been holding back all morning. I didn’t want them to go as much as I wanted them to go.

Knowing when kids are ready for overnight camp feels concrete, even if there is a bit of a learning curve in the process.

  • Do they want to go? Are they excited?
  • Are they comfortable sleeping away from home?
  • Have you set up things to make them more comfortable?

Knowing when we as parents are ready for our kids to go to overnight camp is rarely even talked about.

While we can do all the research, find the perfect camp and understand the amazing opportunities overnight camp gives our kids, there are things to consider before watching that van drive away.

  1. How do I feel about it? Excited? Nervous? Ready? No matter how you feel, you will probably never be ready. That’s the reality of parenting kids as they grow up. There will always be a pull from somewhere deep inside you that wants to hold on. Even when you know you need to let go. It isn’t easy for anyone, but recognizing it helps.
  2. Do I feel safe? The safety of your kids is always one of your top priorities. Sending them to overnight camp, for one night, one week or a whole summer, is a big decision. Take time to learn about the camp. Find out about the people working with the kids. Questions about requirements for lifeguards and background checks are completely appropriate, and reputable camps will not be offended by any of these. Understanding the camp, how it works and the people responsible during that time will help you decide how comfortable you are entrusting them with your child.
  3. Am I excited about the opportunities they will have? If you are going to balance the struggle of letting them go, it is key to know why you are sending them in the first place. Will they be able to have tons of outdoor time to play? Will your science lover get to do experiments every day? Will your artist have a full week of creating? Knowing the benefits of the camp and how it will help your child grow, develop friendships, learn and foster independence will help when you are missing them.
  4. What is the emergency plan? Part of protecting our kids means being aware of dangers. The idea of not being there if something goes wrong can be hard and even hold parents back from sending kids to camp. From an injury to simple homesickness, think about how you would handle a situation if it arises. While it isn’t comfortable, understanding the camp protocols, as well as how you would be available and get to your child, is a helpful way to feel ready.
  5. How will I know what’s happening? Camps are full of ways to connect. While most don’t allow phone communication, many have fun ways to stay connected. Camps today have opportunities to send emails, text or even see daily pictures of your child at camp. Know the ways you can stay aware of your child’s experience. It will help you feel connected each day.

If you are uncertain about these things, take some time to think about them. Explore different camp options, like how far it is from your home and how many days they will go. If you are struggling, start closer to home or shorter time frame. If you are feeling more confident, explore longer options or out-of-state possibilities. Sending kids with a sibling or friend is a great way to have some peace of mind, and talking to families that have sent their kids to the camp you are considering will help you find out more than what they show on the website. See what makes you feel more comfortable, and go from there.

While it is important to decide if your child is ready to go to camp, it is equally important to make sure you are comfortable sending them. Taking time to think about these questions will help you decide if you are ready to send your child to overnight camp.

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Creating Camp: The DIY Approach to Your Child's Summer Experience

Pollen is in the air, and the weather is warming. As summer is on the cusp of arriving, so is the moment when school doors will be closing. Florida is ripe with rich activities and accessible amenities. Instead of sending kids to camp, we’ve looked at local options to make every summer day an incredible–and educational- adventure.


Many farms offer tours and information sessions about agriculture life and even allow you to pick seasonal fruits and vegetables.

The 300 acres of Towers Family Farm in Palatka offers various seasonal opportunities to pluck produce from the fields, including blueberries, strawberries and vegetables. The farm also boosts an event space for all sorts of gatherings.

Family-oriented Blu by U in Clay County prides itself on blueberry picking, but that’s merely the start of the excitement. The lands have friendly farm animals, a butterfly house and educational tours and are available for events. Find a treasure to take home in their country store. Reservations are required for picking.

Wesley Wells Farm offers seasonal produce to pick year-round, from blueberries to green beans and pumpkins in the fall. Additionally, they host field trips, summer camps (ages five to 15) and workshops to educate the community on farming practices. Want a night under the stars? Reserve their bell tent for a truly unique experience.

If you’re up for a drive, Crossroads Farms and Apiary in Gainesville hosts strawberry picking. Pursue their curated collection of items in the on-site store for seasonal farm-themed products and try their specialty–honey!

Water, Water Everywhere

Splash pads can help you beat the heat when the humidity and temperatures are high. In St. Johns County, Calhoun Recreation Center houses a swimming pool and splash park as well as a full-size gymnasium and sports fields. Pool fees are two dollars for children and three for adults. Alternate splash areas include the St. Augustine Pier, Losco Regional Park and South Beach Park.

Sun Splash Park in Daytona Beach is open daily in March. Riverwalk Park in Port Orange and Wes Crile Park in Deltona offer water play and playground equipment to keep kids busy. Mill Lake Park in Orange City and Community Park in DeBary provide fenced-in splash areas.

Spring Park and Murray Hill Playground offer splash areas in Clay County, while Camp Chowenwaw Park’s pool is open in May.

If indulgences are what you’re seeking, using apps like Daycationapp and Resort Pass allows you to search for the right services for you. With pools, spas, lazy rivers and splurges, you get to indulge in resort amenities without the hotel stay. Options start at $20.

Go Away but Stay!

“Travel” to other countries through cuisine, customs and costumes. Select one country each week to research and create activities. From cooking dinner to designing clothes, you can even pepper in cultural holidays. Test culinary capabilities and sewing skills by recreating festivals highlighting garments, holidays, dance and other traditions. Create a play or script a new tale. It is a different way to experience the world.

Other Ideas

Create a nature scavenger walk, followed by backyard camping and s’mores. Sterno-style flames work great when a fire pit isn’t permitted.

Further these nature lessons by discussing habitats and ecosystems of the critters you’ve discovered that can be tailored to any age.

If creature-watching inspires your kiddos, try a virtual tour. Many facilities offer these unique peaks into animal areas to catch a glimpse of majesty. Go “international” to visit Tembe Elephant Park in South Africa online or discover the lives of polar bears through Discover the grounds of the epic San Diego, Denver or Dallas Zoos. The National Aquarium, Aquarium of the Pacific, Tennessee and Georgia aquariums offer free virtual tours.

Enjoy museums across the world. See Van Gogh’s works at his namesake establishment in Amsterdam or see stunning art from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Then, virtually skim the halls of Paris’ Musee d’Orsay.

Keep young brains flexed with custom crossword puzzles while building vocabulary and spelling skills. Make your own at and Or practice finance tactics with budgeting. Whether you’re out grocery shopping, adventuring or splurging, set a budget for your kids and show them how far each dollar (doesn’t) go.

So if the glitter and glue, popsicle sticks and paint aren’t cutting it this summer, try one of the at-home camp and staycation ideas to give your summer a boost of fun on a family-friendly budget.

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