Allison Hendrix puts a lot of thought but not much money into the care packages she sends her children at summer camp.
She looks for items that will help them engage with cabin mates, and skips things that they would worry about breaking or losing. She seeks out items to make them laugh, and avoids anything that could induce homesickness.
"I want to let them know I'm thinking of them and I love them, but I don't want to make them miss home," says Hendrix, of Orlando, Florida.
She has sent costumes and wigs, yarn for making friendship bracelets, games and balls. Less is more, she says.
Other tips for creating a good care package for summer campers?
Tailor it to a child's personality, says Gay Gasser, owner of Mirth in a Box, a company in Fairfield, Connecticut, that specializes in sending camp care packages. Sending a shy kid a game might serve as an icebreaker in the cabin, she said. An outgoing kid might want stickers or other small, inexpensive items to share with friends.
Be sure to follow camp guidelines about packages, says Malcom Petty, owner of Sealed With A Kiss Camp Services in Kansas City. Most camps have rules about what parents can and can't send. Many don't allow food or electronics. Others only accept packages of a certain size.
"They don't want anything that will create a mess, like water balloons or confetti. Nothing that in any way looks like a weapon," Petty says. "You want things that are going to add value to the experience."
Done right, packages are a "sweet and lovely touchstone" to home, says Paul Sheridan, director at Four Winds Camp on Orcas Island in Washington.
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And don't go overboard. Parents who try to outdo each other with lavish and frequent gifts, or who ignore camp rules, can create difficult situations for camps and campers, he says. Constant reminders of home can distract from the purpose of camp.
And packages also can cause hurt feelings when not everyone in the cabin receives them, said Lindsay Matteson, director at Camp Winacka in San Diego, California. "It can be really hard," she said. "At our camp, the girls share space and there aren't very many ways to be discreet about handing out packages."
She suggests sending playing cards, the group word game Madlibs, party favors and decorations, or other things that can be enjoyed by the entire cabin.
More tips for sending care packages to camp:
— Plan an extra day or two for delivery.
— Double check that camp address; make sure it's the camp's summer address.
— Include your daytime phone number if you order from an online care package company. The sooner the company can reach you to correct any errors, the sooner it can ship out your child's package.
— Find out if the camp will let you leave a package with them at drop-off to give your child a day or two later. This saves shipping costs and ensures that your camper will receive the package.