7 tips to resurrecting the lost art of summer camp letter writing

summer camper in glasses smiling

Summer is just about over—you think I’d be used to how quickly it comes and goes! Heads that were heavy with anxiety around the unknowns of summer camp are now filled with camp memories, and believe it or not, thoughts and yearnings for next year’s activities. 

The turning of a page is a great time to reflect, though. 

And while I didn’t personally attend any sort of summer program this year (or for a while now, because you know, adulting), I’m reflecting on whether or not I did all I could through this blog to help prepare you and your kids for camp, and - as much as one can through written word - help ensure the best experience possible. 

Looking back over this year’s blog posts, I found that I’ve provided the following:

Not bad, right? From start to finish, the posts above are geared towards helping you and your child find a camp, enjoy camp, and then hit the ground running after camp. 

But with that said, I found a few holes, and I blame technology for this one in particular. 

With texting, email, and social media, you’d think letters to and from summer camp have become relics of the past. Or, at least I did. 

As it turns out, though, physical letter writing is still very much a thing. It might even be one of those things that vanished for awhile, then came all the way back around to being cool (think fashion, and now even print magazines, etc.)

So with all of that said, I’m here to go over the summer camp letter, and give you some pointers on how to pack as much punch as possible in a simple sheet of paper filled with words.

1. Don’t fill your letter with “you are missing so much at home” statements. And of course, stay away from bad news. 

The quickest way for your summer camp letter to backfire is to, albeit inadvertently, cause your child to miss home even more than they might be missing it already. 

So, try to stay away from mentioning the things your camper is missing out on because they are away - friends, favorite meals, movies, etc. - and instead, perhaps talk about how you’re so excited to learn about all of the different things your camper is doing with their time away. 

And, this might go without saying, but reporting bad news? Please, if Gary the goldfish’s health takes a turn for the worse, it doesn’t have to be breaking news!

2. Send your letter before camp starts, or risk not having it arrive in time.

Just going off the point above, one of the best ways to ensure you don’t fill your summer camp letter with “wish you were here's” is to write and send your letter off before your child even arrives at camp. Doing so will make it nearly impossible to include info on anything currently happening at home. 

But, back to the main point of this bullet—the primary reason you’ll want to send your letter before your child is at camp is because if you wait until they are off in the wilderness or at coding camp, the letter might not even make it in time, especially for a weeklong program. 

3. Send a top 10 list, tell a joke; basically, channel your inner late night talk show host.

So if you can’t write about what’s going on at home, and you should try and write the letter before your son or daughter even leaves for camp, what are you supposed to write about?

Do you watch talk shows? I’m a sucker for Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and the like. One thing I admire about them and their writers is the ability  to fill time. I’ve been suckered into watching someone talk for 30 minutes or an hour on TV, how?

To start, they are able to stretch an idea or topic to great lengths. “Top 10” lists, monologues/jokes, and conversations that can go a number of directions based on their guests work wonders.

So, channel your inner Jimmy. With your letter, your job is to entertain and fill a blank sheet of paper. Listing the top 10 reasons you’re proud of your little one for attending camp, or providing them with a Mad Libs style template they can fill in and share with you when you pick them up are great options. 

4. Try not to embarrass them (which I know could come as second nature to many of you). 

Some camps are heavy on letter sending; others not so much. The last thing you want is to be the only parent sending something out to your kiddo. Similarly, if everyone else is sending letters, you want your child to be included in the weekly mail call. 

So, do your research—ask the camp whether or not letter sending is a normal practice (and ask these other summer camp questions while you're at it), and check with friends who have attended or are currently attending. 

Now, on the other hand...sending a care package with loads of candy and snacks? Shareables might actually turn your child into the camp superstar, but again, check with the camp before sending. 

5. Make it a game or puzzle instead of just a letter. 

One big benefit of the summer camp letter is that it lets campers know you haven’t forgotten about them. It’s not so much the content of the letter, but more just the act of receiving something. 

So, if you’re hesitant about saying the wrong thing, saying too much, not saying enough, etc. don't say anything at all! Meaning, make the “letter” more of a game or puzzle; something your little one can physically receive, open, and spend as much or as little time on as they wish. The fact that you took the time out to creatively put something together for them can warm their heart. 

Some ideas:

  • Create your own secret code; Letters instead of numbers, writing in symbols instead of words, etc. 
  • Provide a funny photo and have your camper offer their best captions. Or, have them create their own meme out of a provided image. 
  • Crossword puzzles, riddles, and word jumbles are timeless classics. 
  • Mad Libs or some other type of Q&A are fun options.

With all of this, as tempting as it is, try not to treat your child’s time off at camp as a vacation from parenting—you have a very important duty with your summer camp letter responsibility!

6. Ask the right questions!

Any parent knows that when asked "How was school?", monosyllabic answers are par for the course. We don't want "How is camp going?" to meet the same fate!

So, get a little more detailed in your letters to get to know what's really going on at camp! Ask for specifics about their favorite activities, friends they're making, favorite counselors, and you'll get to hear about how much fun they're having and get a clear picture of camp life. Need some ideas to get writing? These 57 open ended questions are a great starting point. 

7. Keep up with camp news.

Most camps will send families a newsletter, photos, or other updates to keep them in the know about goings-on and highlights of the summer. These can be a gold mine of information! Notice a funny photo of a camp-wide event? Ask about it! Maybe there was a big competition or fun excursion? Ask your child for their account of the adventure! Hearing about these highlights from their point of view will be fun to read (and fun to write about!). 

Have your own tips or suggestions? Let’s hear them!

A photo of Ryan

Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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