The day before my son leaves for summer Boy Scout camp is frenzied. I find out all of his socks are piled in a dirty heap under his bed, he must have a blue bandana for the annual camp relay race and he forgot to give me some badges to sew onto his uniform. The hectic day ends with us somehow managing to shut his swollen trunk long enough to fasten a thick metal lock in place.

But despite the hustle and bustle, I always make a quick stop at the mailbox. That’s where I pack away a little love and encouragement to send to my son at camp.

Love from Home

Since my son’s camp is only a week long, I send a note, however small, every other day. At least twice during the week, I drop a box of surprises from home in the mail. What I have learned from other families and campers is that it truly is the thought and not the content that counts.

Camp care packages need not 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 heartfelt note or a game to enjoy with other campers is all it takes to put a smile on the face of a busy camper, share a long-distance hug or help a homesick cohort.

Because a child may be nervous or homesick at the start of camp, refrain from sending anything that will worsen the situation. This includes items such as sentimental photos, news of fun events happening at home and declarations of how much you miss your child. Instead, make your package a happy reminder of how much you love your child and how cool camp can be.

To reach your child early in the camp session, send mail or a package in the week before the start of camp. Likewise, do not send anything more than a card in the last few days of camp as the mail may not reach the camper in time.

Read any camp literature explaining mail-call policies. Some camps confiscate sent candy or food. Other camps have strict policies prohibiting items like squirt guns and aerosol cans.

Campers’ Favorites

An informal survey with parents, counselors and kids over the years has helped me to compile a list of campers’ mail-call favorites. If your child is heading to an overnight camp this year or in the future, this is a handy list to bookmark.

  1. Glow sticks. Sure, all kids enjoy flashlights. However, most counselors announce “lights out” shortly after taps. A glow stick can be used to heal the nighttime fears of a first-time camper, mark the path to the bathroom or locate a tent during camping trips. Stop by your nearby party supply store to see the variety of glow sticks available.
  2. Humorous cards. Save the sentimental cards for birthdays and Valentine’s Day. Humor goes a long way with a cabin full of kids. You know the silliness of your child best; look for a card to spur a chuckle or two.
  3. Small snacks. This is a tricky enclosure because camp staff often limits sweets around the cabin. Heed the camp policy and, to keep the sugar intake low, consider sending snack size bags of cereal, peanuts, raisins, trail mix, oatmeal cookies or pretzels. If sugar does not concern you, try fortune cookies or tuck loving notes into home-baked treats.
  4. Money. No need to wire over the family savings. Two dollars tucked in a card is all it takes to get an extra drink or bite at canteen or during a camp trip.
  5. Forgotten items. Last 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 while picking through his coin box for the money. When my husband and I returned from dropping our son at camp and saw the treasured watch on the kitchen table, off the watch went via the postal service to camp. My son later told me it was his favorite camp care package that he ever received.
  6. Games and toys. Whether it’s Solitaire, Go Fish or 52-Pick Up, there are far more than 52 ways to use a deck of cards. Other good playthings to send to campers include magnets, stickers and noisemakers. Party stores also sell miniature toys, including Etch-a-Sketches and Magic 8 Balls. I have found these little versions on key chains and attached to pens. The trick is to keep the toy small and simple. And as the novelty lasts longer when only one toy is getting the attention, narrow down your selection.
  7. Goody bags for girls. The silly sleepover entertainment that comes from nail polish, hair accessories, temporary tattoos, play earrings and toe socks also breaks the ice in a camp cabin.
  8. Sentimental notes. A simple sheet of paper with “I love you” written on it may not seem like much to mail. Yet, it provides 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. Besides, sometimes reassurance from home brings sweet dreams during a night away.
  9. Pet photo. If you have a child who will be talking about a pet dog, cat or gerbil, your son or daughter might appreciate a photo of Scruffy to share with new friends.
  10. Magazines. Consider mailing fun reading material with a letter from home. Keep the subject matter light and age appropriate. Reading magazines is a great pastime for rainy afternoons or sparking late-night chats.
  11. Disposable camera. Especially if your child did not take a camera to camp, send off an inexpensive disposable camera for capturing shots of camp friends and activities. You can also find inexpensive underwater disposable cameras, which are great for camps with swimming pools.
  12. A welcome home invitation as a last mailing. Invite your child to a pizza party in the family room, a movie rental night with friends or even just a favorite activity at home. Mention how proud your child makes you and how you look forward to hearing about the good times had at summer camp.
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