Ask the Experts

Q: Will My Child Survive Sleepaway Camp Without Me?

Summer camp provides our kids an invaluable opportunity for independence, personal growth, and fun. Equal are the opportunities for losing things, especially if your child has ADHD. Here, a veteran camp mother offers tips for keeping your child organized and happy at sleep-away camp.

Q: “My son is going to summer camp for the first time without me there as a leader. What are the best tips and techniques for packing, getting him organized, and keeping him on track away from home?” –MamaBear27 

Hi Mamabear27:

My son, who was disorganized and had a hard time keep track of his stuff due to his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), spent 7 summers at sleep-away camp. Here are a few tips and tricks I learned along the way.

  1. Plastic bins are organizing gold! Most camp bunks just have open shelves, which makes smaller items such as socks, underwear, swim trunks, etc. difficult to contain. I would pack these items in their own plastic bins and place these bins right in my son’s duffle bag. When my son got to camp and unpacked, all he needed to do was lift the bin out of the bag and place it on the shelf! Easy and organized! Bonus? When his clothes returned from the laundry all he needed to do was put the items right back in the designated bins.
  2. Bathroom Caddy. All bathroom essentials – shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc. – were packed straight into the bathroom caddy and the bathroom caddy was packed right into the duffle. Again, all he needed to do was take the caddy out of his bag and he was ready to go. A tip within a tip? Make sure to only purchase containers that stand upright. Toothpaste tubes or bars of soap take up more room than do upright containers.
  3. Pick one color for towels. There is no easier way for your child to lose his towel than to have it be the same color as everyone else’s! So pick a unique color (think orange, bright yellow) for all of his bath and swim towels. When his group is down at the waterfront, he’ll be able to spot his towel amongst the rest. And a tip within a tip? Sew a small piece of elastic on every towel to make hanging it to dry a breeze! Most cabins or bunks just have a few nails hammered into the wall for this purpose, making hooking a towel impossible. The elastic will do the trick! This goes for bathing suits, too!
  4. Label EVERYTHING! If you could label your son I would recommend it! Seriously, camp is notorious for missing items. Your son will have a better chance of reclaiming his favorite sweatshirt if his name is clearly marked. Make sure to label the inside of all his shoes, sports equipment, glasses case, flashlight, backpack, all bathroom items (even his toothbrush) and even the plastic bins for his shelves. You’ll thank me for this one!
  5. An outfit a day. Since I’m not sure how long your son is going to camp, I’m offering up this tip if he is off to camp for a week. Plan an outfit a day and bag it up. Purchase large clear plastic bags, label the outside with the day of the week, include underwear, bathing suit, socks, shorts, and t-shirt, and place them all inside the bag. This system will keep him instantly organized.

Take a deep breath, mama. He will be fine! And if comes home with one sneaker, no towels and his friend’s sweatshirt? You’ll know he had a wonderful time!

[Free Guide to Choosing the Perfect Camp for Your Child]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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