Who has time to put together good, cool camp care packages?
The day before my son leaves for summer Boy Scout camp is a frenzied day. It is the day I find out all of his socks have been piling up in a dirty heap under his bed. (“Mom, can you throw these in the laundry real fast?”) and that he forgot to give me some badges to sew onto his uniform (“Mom, why is your thumb bleeding?”) and, of course, he tells me that he MUST have a blue bandana for the annual camp relay race (“Didn’t I tell you that, Mom?… hmmm… sorry.”)!
It is a hectic day that ends with a small swollen trunk that barely stays closed long enough to fasten a thick metal lock in place.
Yet despite my frantic pace, I always manage to make a quick stop at the mailbox. That’s where I pack away a little love and self-esteem for him to keep for the week. That’s where I mail the first of many little goodies for him to open at Mail Call.
Love from Home
Since his camp is only a week long, I send at least a quick note every other day. But at least once during the week, OK it’s at least twice, I drop a little box of surprises from home in the mail. What I have learned from other families and campers is that it really is the thought, and not the content, that counts!
Camp care packages do not need to be big. In fact, an oversized box full of gifts might put your young camper into an awkward situation with the other kids at camp. It is better to keep the care simple: a card, a little note or a small box of goodies is all it takes to put a smile on the face of a busy camper, help a homesick cohort, and share a long-distance hug.
Because a child may be nervous or homesick at the start of camp, it is best not to send anything that will make the situation worse. This includes items such as sentimental photos, news of fun events happening at home, or telling your child how much you miss him. Instead, make your package a happy reminder of how much you love your child and how fun camp can be.
Send mail a day or two before camp begins to reach your child early in the camp session. Likewise, do not send anything more than a card in the last few days of camp since the mail may not reach the camp in time.
Be sure, too, to read any camp literature explaining Mail Call policies. Some camps do not want parents sending candy or food; others have strict policies prohibiting items such as squirt guns or aerosol cans.
So what is it that kids enjoy most at the camp Mail Call? An informal survey with parents, counselors and kids over the years helped me compile this list.
1. Glow sticks. Sure, all kids enjoy flashlights near the sleeping bag, but most counselors announce “lights out” shortly after going to bed. A glow stick can heal the fears of a first-time camper, help mark the path to the bathroom, or hang in a nearby tree to keep the mosquitoes away from the tent. And these little treasures come in all shapes and sizes to appeal to all ages. Stop by your nearby party supply store to see the variety.
2. Humorous cards. Save the sentimental love cards for birthdays and Valentine’s Day. Humor goes a long way with a cabin full of kids. You know best the silliness of your child, so look for a card that will chime a chuckle or two.
3. Small snacks. This is a tricky enclosure because many camp counselors will tell you campers already have plenty of candy treats around the cabin. To keep the sugar intake low, consider snack size bags of peanuts, cereal, raisins, trail mix, oatmeal cookies or pretzels. If sugar does not concern you, try fortune cookies or tuck some homemade notes into home-baked treats.
4. Money. No need to wire the family savings. One dollar tucked into a card is all it takes to get an extra drink or snack.
5. Forgotten items. One year my son bought a cheap water-resistant, glow-in-the-dark plastic watch with a built-in alarm and timer. “This is just want I want for camp!“ he said as he picked through his coin box for the money. No, he is not a little weird. He was 11 at the time (enough said). So, when my husband and I returned from dropping him off at camp and saw the treasured watch on the kitchen table, there was little discussion about what to do, and off the watch went via postal service to camp. My son later told me it was the best camp care package he ever received!
6. Small games and toys. Whether it’s Solitaire, Go Fish, or 52-Pick Up, there are far more than 52 ways to use an inexpensive deck of cards. You can find a deck at almost all discount stores. Other good gadgets include magnets, stickers and party noisemakers. Party stores also sell miniature-sized toy favorites such as Etch-a-Sketch or Magic 8 Balls. I have found these little versions on key chains and attached to ballpoint pens. The trick is to keep the toy small and simple. The novelty lasts longer, too, when there is only one toy getting the attention, so narrow your selection.
7. Goody bags for girls. The silly sleepover fun of nail polish, hair accessories, temporary tattoos, novelty earrings or toe socks can go a long way toward breaking the ice in a camp cabin.
8. Love notes from home. A simple sheet of paper with “I love you” written on it may not seem like much to mail, but it is an instant hug from home for your little camper. I found a few of these in the bottom of my son’s suitcase one year and realized he had saved them. Sometimes, a little reassurance from home brings sweet dreams to an otherwise lonely night away.
9. Pet photo. If you have a child who is sure to be talking about his fish, dog or gerbil to new friends, she might appreciate a photo of Fido to show with her new buddies.
10. Magazine. You may want to mail off some happy reading with your letter from home. Keep the subject matter light and age-appropriate. This is a great pastime for rainy afternoons or while tucking into the bunk for the night.
11. Disposable camera. If your child does not take anything to capture photos, you may want to send an inexpensive disposable camera for her to get shots of her new friends before she leaves for home. You can also find inexpensive underwater disposable cameras — great for camps with swimming pools!
12. A “Welcome Home” invitation for your final mailing. Invite your child to a pizza picnic in the family room or movie night with friends or even just the promise of an undisturbed bubble bath. Be sure to mention how proud she makes you and how you look forward to hearing about the fun she had at camp!
Mary Jo Kurtz is a freelance writer. She and her husband, Gary, have two sons. You can visit her website at www.maryjokurtz.com.
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