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Camp / Colorado Livin'

What every parent should know before sending kids to overnight camp

What every parent should know before sending kids to overnight camp

Is your child going to overnight camp? Are they excited/nervous/shy/overwhelmed? They’re not alone!



Going to camp is a wonderful opportunity to grow, make new friends and learn new skills. We sat down with Matt “Sully” Sullivan, Summer Camp Director of Camp Chief Ouray.  As Colorado’s longest-running overnight camp for kids ages 7-17, CCO is located on 5,100 acres of mountains, valleys, streams and meadows outside of Granby, Colo.

Everyone’s reasons for going to overnight camp are different. Why do you think it’s a valuable learning experience?

It really depends on what you think your child needs. For instance, my mother sent me to camp as a painfully shy boy who lacked confidence. During my time at camp I gained new friends and was pushed outside of my comfort zone. I tried all sorts of new activities, games and sports and slowly gained more confidence in my own abilities. I also learned how to be more independent and how to hold myself accountable in various capacities, which paid off later during my college years and even today! We will see the younger kids that have been to camp helping older kids find their way around or teach them some tricks of the trade. CCO’s camper population is another positive experience camper experience at camp. We will mainly get kids from the

Front Range but we have many kids from all over the U.S. and international countries. This summer alone we will have campers from Columbia, China, Spain, Great Britain and  France. The campers will meet all sorts of kids and get a chance see how other countries do things.      campfire     

What tips would do you have for parents sending their kids for the first time?

Make sure you plan activities for yourself! Yes, I am talking about you parents– you need to have fun, too.

As for camp preparations, make sure you send your kids to camp with the following items: Bed sheet to cover the mattress (use the sleeping bag as the comforter), pillow (it is a nice comfort to have at the end of the day), large water bottle (nothing less than 24oz), sandals for the bathroom and two sturdy pieces of footwear for sports/hiking/ walking around camp. The Colorado sun is intense so UV sunglasses and hat, of course sunscreen spf 40 or higher. Dehydration is a big issue in the mountains and can ruin a kid’s day so make sure they stay hydrated.

If you want your child to write you while at camp, pack pre-stamped and addressed post cards.  In prepping your child for camp, a sleepover at a friend’s house will help them acclimate to different sleeping environments.  If your child does not have chores, give them tasks or duties like sweeping/wiping the table/setting the table or things they will be doing at camp. We also have a no electronics policy, Please don’t send your camper with a cell phone to text or call you at night.

mustacheMy child is really disorganized and I’m worried he will lose or won’t be able to find anything. Any advice for packing and also staying organized while at camp?

Before you arrive at camp, write your camper’s name on anything you don’t want them to loose. Sharpies are your best friend for labeling your gear. Another thing you can try is delegating tasks to your child that they may not be used to around your house or in their everyday life, and, no matter how hard it is to just watch, let them work through a task completely on their own! See how that goes and that might give you more insight to how they will do at camp.

The next step is making sure you don’t pack anything of value, as it is always a possibility that not everything you packed will return home from camp. Camp Chief Ouray is not responsible for lost or damaged items. However we will keep lost items for 1-2 weeks after the item was lost or misplaces during their stay.

The last recommendation is to let your child pack by themselves or help lay out everything before it gets packed. Many times, campers show up to camp and they don’t know what is in their own bag. Make sure they know what they are taking to camp!

ziplineWhat kind of questions should I ask to ensure my camp meets guidelines and the counselors are properly trained?

 Q: How long is staff training? A: CCO’s supports staff training begins May 13th our trip staff training starts May 17th our Barn/Horse staff arrive may 19th  and our all staff training runs from May 27th until June 5th, Campers arrive June 7th.

Q: What topics do you cover? A: During our trainings we teach leadership style, techniques on how to work with counselors and campers, how to identify bullying and the many types,  we have a parent panel talk to staff about their kid and a parent’s expectation, core values, leading activities the right way, table manners, child abuse prevention, disciplining a child properly, developmental stages of kids, OSHA/safety rules, supervision, and many more topics.

If you’re talking to one of the year-round staff members, ask them what is their philosophy on summer camp is. (they are the ones hiring and training the staff with your kids). Does the camp meet the American Camp Association standards? Are they an accredited camp? (This accreditation sets the camp industries standards) CCO has been accredited for many years!

horse1What if my child gets homesick or injured?

 Overnight camps typically have a nurse on staff and on call for the entire camp season. The camp should notify you right away with any concerns or questions they have about your child.

As for homesick campers, at CCO we have the counselors use everything in their training tool box to help the child work through the issue on their own. Then, if necessary, our Support Staff members step in to help with the campers homesickness. At this point, if the situation isn’t getting better, we’ll call the parents to notify them and share tips or advice. Finally, I will talk with the camper to see if I may have dealt with a similar case of homesickness in the past. If we are not making any progress, we will talk to the parents again and set up a camper-parent phone call as the last resort. When no solution can be reached, the camper typically feels defeated and really just wants to go home. It’s hard for us because we really want everyone to have fun – but sometimes campers may not be ready for camp that year. We encourage parents to continue to try and make camp a part of their children’s lives each summer – even if they have had an episode of homesickness the summer before.  

Asunsetfter camp is over, what kind of questions should I ask my child to delve into their experience vs. just getting their generic answers?

The below info we give our parents at check out:

To avoid getting one-word answers (like “Yeah”, “Fine” and “Nope”) while talking to your child about their camp experience, we suggest you ask questions that require them to think about the answer and put it into their own words.  Depending on age, you could try . . .

· I heard you ended each day with a campfire and Vespers.  Could you tell me about one of them?

· Did your cabin get to sleep out one night?  What was it like to sleep under the stars without a tent?  What did you do after dark?

· What activities did you sign up for? What were your favorite activities?

· Can you teach me some of the songs you sang at camp?


Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

1 Comment

  1. This is wonderful advice. Overnight camp can be a great experience for kids and teens, but preparing them and yourself is a must. It’s almost summertime, hope everyone enjoys it!

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