I consider myself a bit of a veteran when it comes to packing for sleepaway camp. My 13-year old son is currently experiencing his fifth year (Mo Ranch 2013; Camp Allen 2014-2017; Camp Travis 2018). My 10-year old daughter began going the summer after second grade and is currently on her third year at T Bar M.
I never grew up in this camp culture. I went to a Girl Scout overnight camp and didn’t enjoy it one bit, so I never did it again. However, in Texas, I’ve found almost everyone goes to some sort of sleepaway camp during summer. My kids love sleepaway camp, and I love what it offers them – independence, outdoors, freedom from electronics, fun activities, and experiences, and friendships.
Is your child ready to go to sleepaway camp? Most camps begin offering the experience to kids who have completed first or second grade.
- It sounds like a no-brainer, but don’t force anything.
- How does your child do on sleep overs? How about showering on his/her own?
- A pal. Is there a friend willing to attend with your child?
Which camp to choose? Do your research early – some camps sell out quickly, and registration opens in early fall. Most camps have a Christian focus. Here are some things to consider when choosing camp:
- Word of mouth. That’s how we’ve chosen each of the camps.
- The drive. Especially for a first-time camper, you might want to choose a place that’s within an hour drive (that’s one of the reasons I love T Bar M).
- Length of stay. Many camps offer one week, but there are others who have two or three-week camp sessions, and some offer a month. Note: One-week camp terms are sometimes also available for the youngest campers.
- Some camps offer discounts for the first session of the summer, others give returning campers a discount. Camps can be expensive based on the facilities and activities they offer, and the staff they employ. I paid $850 for my daughter; and $950 for my son. I found these prices reasonable.
- Campratingz.com is one of the biggest third party review sites for summer camps. In addition, the Austin Family Summer Camp Fair is hosted by Austin Family Magazine. The event is put on every year at the Palmer Events Center, usually in late January. It is free to attend and offers a variety of camps to come and meet. Another resource is the American Camp Association’s family resource website, campparents.org.
- Life is unexpected and crazy, so it’s nice to know if there’s camp session to transfer to and a cancellation policy.
What do you really need to pack? Each camp website has a packing list, and it’s concise and accurate. Use that and you’ll be set. Many kids pack a trunk, which can be bought at a variety of places. I purchased ours at Walmart for $40 with a variety of color options. You’ll want to buy stickers to put on the trunk. I labeled my child’s fan (there’s no air conditioning at Camp Travis) and a few other things, but otherwise, I am at peace with the fact that clothes, shoes, and personal items will get lost (so don’t pack the good stuff). Most camps have theme nights, so review those with your kids and make a list of what you need to buy and bring. Remember it will be HOT, so the less the better. There are some tips and tricks to packing – like putting each day’s clothing in a labeled zip lock bag. Keep the toiletries simple – for my son, I packed an all-in-one body wash/shampoo/conditioner. The control freak in me took a mental vacation during this process, and each of my kids packed their own trunks.
What’s the deal with care packages? Okay, here’s where I’ve gone crazy and didn’t need to. After much money spent (dollars wasted) and time, I now do one 8×11 manila envelope for each day of camp. Many camps don’t allow food/candy, but it seems I was the only mom obeying the rules. So I do a small trinket and note each day – all found at the Dollar Store (think Flarp, hair bands, notebook, and pens)! Ask friends to send notes too.
How can I communicate with my child? In addition to the care packages, you can email notes to them daily (the camp prints them out). I love this. You’ll also see pictures of them every day. Most likely, you will NOT get a letter from them. I don’t even include self-addressed, stamped envelopes anymore.
Camps my kids and friends’ kids attend:
- Camp Longhorn is located on Inks Lake in the Texas Hill Country. Campers can attend for two or three-week camp sessions. All the Longhorn Camps are coed. Campers must have completed 2nd grade to enroll but you can begin the enrollment process the summer after 1st grade. An interview with the director is required for placement in one of the camps.
- Camp Champions is located on the beautiful shores of Lake LBJ in the Texas Hill Country, just 50 miles west of Austin for kids aged 6 – 17. Campers can attend two or three-week camp terms (or longer combination sessions) during the summer.
- T Bar M is a non-denominational, Christian summer camp that serves girls and boys in grades 1st through 11th at two separate properties. T Bar M runs a teenage adventure camp for children in grades 7th – 11th at its Lake Travis property. There is an overnight Sports Camp for campers in grades 1st – 6th where they can choose from 11 specialty sports programs. Both camps offer one-week terms.
- Camp Balcones Springs was founded on Christian principles and is among Texas’ most progressive camps, redefining the camp experience for children, ages 7 to 17, and having one of the highest counselor-to-camper ratios in the industry.
- Camp Mystic is a private Christian summer camp for girls. Established in 1926, Mystic is nestled among cypress, live oak, and pecan trees in the hill country of west-central Texas on the banks of the beautiful Guadalupe River. Mystic is located near the geographical center of Texas, 18 miles northwest of Kerrville.
- Laity Lodge Youth Camp is a Christian youth camp nestled in the Texas Hill Country’s stunning Frio River Canyon. Year after year LLYC has been offering campers the best two weeks of their lives. LLYC is a blend of high-energy recreation, wilderness experiences, and meaningful community.
- Mo-Ranch Summer Camp is a co-ed residential Christian summer camp that’s located along the north fork of the Guadalupe River in the wide-open spaces of the beautiful Texas Hill Country!
- Camp Allen’s summer camp is one of the largest summer camp programs in the Episcopal Church. Each summer, over 1900 campers from across Texas come to refocus, relax, and have a blast.