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School is out and summer camp is in!  We have been thinking a lot about the first day of camp, and we bet you have too.  We know the first day of camp can be incredibly exciting and at the same time, kind of scary if you don’t know what to expect.  That’s why we came up with a list of 10 things to remember on your first day of camp.  We encourage families to read this list together so that everyone can gain a better understanding of arrival day; campers can prepare for leaving home and parents can gain insight into what their children are feeling about this milestone!

1. Getting ready for camp is part of the fun!

Whether you’re packing up for 8 weeks at overnight camp or just getting your backpack ready for arrival day, getting ready for camp is part of the fun!  If you’re off to sleepaway camp, break out those checklists and get cracking.  Find the humor in labeling every piece of your clothing, make a game out of the drugstore run and see just how fast you can grab all the essentials (bugspray, sunblock, toothbrush, water bottle, paper and envelopes, GO!), challenge yourself to fit everything into just one bag.  Look for  some silly pictures of your loved ones to bring.  Make packing enjoyable!  Don’t forget to give your friends your address so they can send you mail and, if you’re really lucky, care packages.  Ask your family if you can all dig into your favorite meal for your last dinner at home.  Enjoy the excitement of building up to the first day of camp.  If you’re getting ready for day camp, decide on which tasty lunch to pack, grab your favorite swim towel, pick out your most comfortable shorts and t-shirt.  Get that backpack ready!  No matter what kind of camp you’ll be attending, remember to take some time in the days leading up to camp to think about how fun your summer is going to be.  Make a countdown calendar and imagine all of the new friends you will make and the new activities you will get to try.  The excitement of the first day of camp can begin long before arrival day!

2. Everyone is at least a little bit anxious.

You probably feel like the only one who spent all night last night feeling like you couldn’t get those butterflies in your stomach under control, but rest assured that everyone is feeling at least a little bit anxious.  Maybe, for instance, you’re nervous that you won’t make any friends.  But guess what?  That returning camper over there?  He’s nervous that his old friends may have changed.  That girl standing with that big group of kids?  She’s worried that she might get homesick.  All those staff members who seem to be so comfortable and having a great time, confidently greeting busloads of campers?  Just a week or two ago they were in your shoes, leaving home to travel to a new state or a new country, meeting new people, and worrying about fitting in with their fellow counselors.  Just a week or two ago they felt as anxious as you do right now.  Feeling nervous is a normal part of any new and exciting experience.  But look at those camp counselors.  Keep reminding yourself that, just like them, you’ll soon be relaxed and ready to enjoy the summer.  And maybe, if you’re feeling brave enough, walk up to that kid sitting alone at the picnic table and say hello.  Helping someone else is always a great way to forget about your own worries.  Chances are he’s feeling a little more anxious than you, and you could be the one to get his summer off to the right start… and maybe you’ll make a new friend!

3. Figure out what makes you most comfortable on your first day and do that.

As stated in number two, you will become more at ease over time, but you can do things to speed up the process.  Figure out what makes you most comfortable on your first day and do that.  Do you know you’d prefer a top bunk?  If possible, try to arrive early so you can pick out the perfect bunk for the summer.  Do you like to be surrounded by things from home?  Pack a few of your favorite items and display them on your cubby.  Are you more relaxed when your family helps you get settled in?  Ask them if they can stay a while and help you unpack or take a walk around camp with you.  Does it make it harder for you to have your parents lingering?  Ask them if they can make their goodbyes short but sweet so that you can jump right into activities and meeting new people.  Take some time to really think about what it is you need to feel comfortable on your first day and talk to your parents and your counselors to figure out how to make that happen.  These grown-ups just want you to be happy and safe, so if you can express your feelings to them, they will do what they can to help you settle in.

4. Camp staff are trained to make sure you have a great summer.  Trust them to help you adjust!

Most campers don’t think about this part, but the staff at your camp have been trained to make sure you have a great summer.  They know just how to help you transition from home to camp.  Trust them to help you adjust to camp life!  Camp counselors and head staff have spent weeks learning how to be great ropes instructors, cautious lifeguards, talented guitar teachers, knowledgeable wilderness leaders, and have mastered the skills they will be teaching you over the summer.  But they have also been trained to be fantastic role models, energetic leaders, and to keep you safe and happy at camp.  Counselors are awesome, and when you arrive on the first day of camp they will greet you with giant smiles, shouting out your name and announcing your arrival with excitement.  They are so glad you’re there and they want you to have the best time ever!  When they suggest you meet some of the other kids in your cabin or that you try that getting-to-know-you game, take their advice.  They know their stuff!  Your counselors are there to make sure you adjust to camp life, so if you have questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to ask them.

5. Camps have great first day traditions.

Your first day at camp has been thoughtfully planned out by your camp directors and camp staff.  In some cases, they have been planning for weeks and months, but in many cases, their plans have been in the works for years!  Camps have great first day traditions that have been going on for decades – sometimes even a century – and now you get to be a part of them.  Maybe the first camp meal has been sloppy joes for 25 years.  Perhaps everyone gathers for an all-camp meeting.  Maybe the staff put on a show or you get a big ol’ camp tour.  There might be getting-to-know-you games on the soccer field or sing-a-longs around a campfire.  Whatever the tradition, it is part of what makes your camp unique.  Make a strong memory of these moments, because these are the things that make you part of the camp family.  Yes, that’s right, starting from the moment you arrive and start taking part in these traditions, no matter how small or silly they may seem, you are part of your camp’s family.

6. Create your own first day traditions.

Maybe you’ll only go to camp for one summer, or perhaps you’ll return for years to come, and while your camp likely has some awesome first day traditions, don’t forget to create your own traditions.  Creating your own traditions is part of what makes certain events in life even more special.  Take the scenic route to camp and stop at some goofy landmarks along the way.  Each year you’ll know just how close to camp you are with every passing landmark.  Find a great restaurant that serves one of your favorite meals and stop there for lunch before you get to camp.  Each time you eat that meal you’ll be reminded of the excitement of the first day of camp.  Listen to the same music on the bus ride.  Each time you hear those songs you’ll remember meeting new friends on the drive to camp.  Coming up with your own traditions on the first day of camp will make it a unique day.  If you return to camp year after year, these traditions will get you excited that camp has come around again, and if you move on to other things in the summers to come, these little moments will always remind you of the summer you were lucky enough to spend at camp.

7. It’s okay to be homesick, but try to stay involved.

It might help you to know that missing home is pretty common.  Even your counselors might miss home from time to time.  It’s okay to be homesick, but try as hard as you can to stay involved in the things that are happening on the first day of camp and in the days to come.  There are so many cool activities happening around you, and it would be a shame to miss out on them.  Your home is awesome and you might miss your family and your dog and your neighborhood and your friends, but don’t worry!  When you get back home, they’ll all be there, just as you left them.  And guess what?  They want you to have fun!  Your family misses you, but they want you to have an amazing summer.  In fact, they’re probably a little bit jealous that you get to experience all these exciting activities and meet so many great people and they’re stuck at home (shh, don’t tell them we said that!).  So don’t think for a second that you’re weird for missing home, but try not to let it stop you from taking part in all the fun going on around you.  If you stay involved, you’ll probably wake up in a day or two and forget to be homesick because you’re way too busy enjoying yourself at camp.

8. Eventually these strangers won’t be strangers anymore.

I know it’s hard to believe when you’re looking at a sea of faces that you don’t recognize, but eventually these strangers won’t be strangers anymore.  By the end of the first day you might only remember a few of their names, but by the second day you’ll know the kids in your unit, by the third day you’ll know the kids in most of your activities, and before you know it, most of these people will not only be acquaintances but some will be great friends.  I bet if you ask a returning camper or counselor where they met their best friend, many of them would say “at camp!”  You know all of your friends at home?  All of your classmates from school?  I bet you don’t even remember when they were just strangers to you.  In a matter of days that’s exactly how you’ll feel about all these campers and counselors, so don’t fear all these new people!  One day soon they’ll be old friends.

9. Eventually you’ll know this camp and its language and traditions like the back of your hand.  It will be like your second home.

It’s totally normal to get a little bit lost on your first day and during the first week of camp.  Sometimes even returning campers can’t remember how to get to the waterfront or where the pottery class is held.  It’s also totally normal to wonder how on Earth you’ll remember all these camp songs or understand the inside jokes or camp slang.  But just like all the strangers will become familiar faces, so will this camp become like a second home.  In a few weeks, when camp is over, you’ll wake up in the morning and it will seem weird to you that you don’t have to walk to the lodge for breakfast or that people aren’t singing songs during lunch.  You’ll wonder why friends at home don’t understand your hilarious camp jokes.  You’ll miss using made up words and calling people by crazy nicknames.  All these things that seem so foreign to you on your first day will become the things you love and remember most about camp.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Be excited to learn all about them!  They are what will make this place your second home.

10. By the end of the summer you’ll likely be counting down the days until the NEXT first day of camp, so enjoy it!

It may be difficult to imagine now, but in the blink of an eye your time at camp will be over.  You will have grown into an even better version of yourself by trying tons of new activities, meeting people from all walks of life, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone by getting up on stage and doing that goofy dance with your cabin group.  You will have fallen in love with this place and these people and it will be time to hug them goodbye and head back home.  By the end of the summer you’ll be counting down the days until the NEXT first day of camp.  Whether this is your last summer at camp or the first in a line of many, remember to enjoy the first day of camp for all of its awkwardness and excitement, because THIS first day of camp will only happen once.

So go on, have a magical summer!  Swim in the lake, run around in the woods, climb the rock wall, take drum lessons, find yourself an awesome counselor to learn from, and meet your new best friends.  Enjoy it all, and don’t worry too much about that first day.  It is significant, but it is only the beginning of the best summer of your life.

This article was written with real-life advice from campers, parents, and camp professionals.  Thank you to the following people for their input:

Tulio Browning – Camp Timberlake (Vermont)
The Davis Family (Massachusetts)
Ronni Guttin – Camp JORI
(Rhode Island)
Jake & Kerry Labovitz – Windsor Mountain Summer Camp
(New Hampshire)
The Moriarty Family
(Massachusetts)
Nat Saltonstall – Beaver Summer Programs
(Massachusetts)
John Tilley – Camp Coniston
(New Hampshire)
The Toscano Family – Camp Runoia
(Maine)