Five Tips for Parents of First-Time (or Nervous) Campers

By: Ashley Costello 


You probably already know long-time Tawongan Ashley Costello, Camp’s Assistant Director of Community Engagement, who exudes warmth, care, professionalism and positivity. Ashley goes above and beyond to ensure our families are well taken care of. As our parent liaison, she provides superb customer service – always reliable, friendly and accommodating. We are so lucky to have Ashley’s positive leadership on Tawonga’s year-round team!

– Becca Meyer, Camp Director



I’ve been helping families prepare their children for Camp Tawonga for the past six years. With so much anticipation and excitement for the coming summer, it’s one of my favorite parts of my job. You and your child are about to embark on a truly transformative and life-long experience, and I’m so excited to help welcome your family to Tawonga. With that in mind, here are some top tips I’ve culled together for parents to help first-time or just plain nervous campers prepare for Camp:


1) Be Sure to Let Your Child Know…

“You’re going to make a friend within the first 24 hours of Camp, and your counselors are there to help you.”

  • Tawonga has hired warm, loving, amazing staff to take of your children.2015 Camp Tawonga Session IV360 (2) All counselors are at least 18 and have prior childcare experience, and most have one year of college under their belt. Our counselors go through a minimum one-week intensive training which fully prepares them to handle any situation that might arise. Every counselor is looking out for the well-being of every single child, which includes making sure everyone is making friends.

“I want you to have so much fun at Camp, and I know you are going to love it!”

  • Positive encouragement from a parent is key to a child’s success.
  • Kids are very perceptive and can easily pick up on their parents’ concerns and anxiety. If your child is worried that being gone from home is going to be difficult for you, it will be much harder for them to enjoy Camp because they will be worried about you.
  • Kids also emulate how their parents feel. If they are getting positive vibes from you about Camp, they will feel positive about their session.

“It’s okay to miss me, and know that I am going to miss you too – but you’re still going to have fun at camp, even though you might miss home sometimes.”

  • It will help your child to know that missing each other is natural, and explaining this will help validate their feelings and reassure them.

2)  Try to Avoid Saying…

“Don’t worry – you can call me any time.”

  • We have found that phone communication between campers and family members often prolongs homesickness. Also, kids who make it through their session without speaking with parents at home truly feel an amazing accomplishment which helps fulfill the Tawonga Mission of building confidence.

Just try it for a week (or a few days), and if it doesn’t work out, I will come and get you.

  • The best way to set kids up for success is to let them know they are staying the whole time at Camp, and that they are going to do great! If a child goes in with the attitude of, “If I don’t like it, my parents will pick me up,” then they are much less likely to give Camp a full try.

“You need to go to Camp because I/we need a vacation.”

  • This reason misses the point that Camp will be a wonderful and positive experience for your child.

3) Prepare Them for What to Expect

Contextualize the length of a session.

  • All Tawonga sessions begin on a Sunday, so on a Sunday at home, share with your child that this would be the first day of Camp. Then check in with them periodically throughout the week(s) until you have reached the same amount of time of your child’s session to help contextualize how long six days (or two or three weeks) feels.IMG_2465 (1)

Get used to a new sleeping set-up.

  • Get your child comfortable with sleeping in a sleeping bag (or other camp bedding) for a night or two before their session.  

Review what a day at Camp will feel like.

  • Together, read through what “A Day in the Life” at Camp looks like to get familiar with Tawonga’s schedule and activities. Tawonga’s activities include swimming at the river, tie-dye at arts & crafts and archery. 

4) Attend a New Family Orientation

  • New Family Orientations give children an opportunity to meet other kids from their session, play get-to-know-you games and get all their questions answered by our fun Camp staff while parents meet with a director. It’s a great way to get your child excited about and familiar with Tawonga. If you have not yet RSVP’d for an orientation, click here.

5) Set Up a Play Date

  • About a month before your child’s session, we will email you a roster of other kids in your child’s session. This is a great time to reach out to other children in your area to set up some play dates so your child sees some familiar faces at the bus stop. When we send you a roster, we will also be inviting you to a Facebook group specific to your child’s session. This is also a great way to connect with the parents of kids in your child’s session to set up get-togethers and ask questions.

I hope these tips are useful for you! If your child is feeling nervous or apprehensive about going to Camp, feel free to call us at (415) 543-2267. We’re happy to help brainstorm ways to prepare your child for Tawonga.

Here’s to a beautiful summer in the Sierra Mountains!








P.S. Check out these two VIDEOS for more tips on preparing for Tawonga: one from nine-year-old first-time camper, Nicole, and another from seasoned Tawonga parent, Karen.

P.P.S. Also, be sure to see these “Nine pro-tips to pack your child for Tawonga” from Camp mom and part-time Summer Assistant DSC_0027 (1)Director, Jessica Colvin.



If you have any questions during your child’s stay at Camp, you can always call the Camp office in San Francisco at (415) 543-2267. Our office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and our staff members check messages periodically over the weekends in the summer. During the summer, I also check my email at night and during the weekends and can be easily reached at