Sending your child off to overnight camp for the first time is a rite of passage both for child and parent. It’s fraught with excitement and trepidation, not to mention laundry labels, contraband candy and frantic checks of the packing list.

We wanted inside information, the sort of advice that doesn’t always find its way onto camp Web sites or packing lists. So we consulted veteran campers, counselors and camp directors.

Much of the advice is directed toward the traditional, outdoorsy camp experience, but a good portion should apply to almost any camp.

Millions of children go off to all manner of camps each summer and return home just fine. And then there’s the sort of irrational thought that even the calmest parent finds flitting through their head: My child will be the first kid ever to starve at summer camp.

Rest assured that most camps work hard to ease the separation. They console, cajole and counsel. They make the kids feel better, too. Almost all camps offer packing lists and advice. And here are some tips that should help make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

It’s important to bring a little campfire knowledge to camp. Not that the lyrics to “Kumbaya” are tricky, but being prepared doesn’t hurt. So get ready to sing, loud and enthusiastically. Here are some popular campfire songs, plus the lyrics to a favorite sing-around, shared by a veteran Girl Scouts camper.

1. “Kumbaya”

2. “Black Socks”

3. “This Land is Your Land”

4. “Cats in the Cradle”

5. “The Boxer”
“Black socks, black socks

They never get dirty

The longer you wear them,

The blacker they get.

Someday, I think I shall wash them,

but something keeps telling me don’t do it yet,

not yet, not yet, not yet.” (Repeat.)
For more information on children and camps:

n, an American Camp Association Web site directed at parents.

n The Summer Camp Handbook: Everything You Need to Find, Choose and Get Ready for Overnight Camp – and Skip the Homesickness” (Independent Publishers Group, 247 pages, $14.95), by Christopher A. Thurber and Jon C. Malinowski, offers advice about the camp experience. Camp contraband
Camp consultant Bertram Chatham tells parents: “Always supervise the packing, regardless of the age of the child.” Then, the adults should take charge of the bag until camp. What follows is a list of common contraband – and commonsense no-nos.

n Candy: “Candy in camp is like cigarettes in prison,” Chatham says, “It’s the currency.”

n Pocketknives: Dads imagine sons whittling by the lake. Camps don’t want campers packing weaponry.

n Electronics: Consider camp Vacation Unplugged.

n Scented items: “No matter how much you absolutely adore your peppermint-scented body lotion, please leave it at home,” advises our veteran Girl Scouts camper. Best not to attract the beasties with lovely aromas.

n Silly string, water balloons and environmentally unfriendly items: Save the environment and the sanity of camp counselors.
If you want to pack like a veteran, follow these suggestions from counselors, campers and camp directors.

n Pack wacky: Sure, you need the umpteen T-shirts and changes of underwear. But don’t forget the silly hats, crazy Hawaiian shirts and any piece of odd clothing that might find a use in camp skits.

n Extra flashlight batteries: Courage comes in a D cell.

n At least 1 1/2 times the number of recommended socks and underwear: They’re easily lost, and then there’s the dirt and grime factor.

n A black laundry marker: Campers can label the clothing they buy at camp.

n A disposable camera: Making memories is one thing, having evidence to share is another.
n Remember the water bottle, the one item most often forgotten.

n Never open a returning camper’s bag in the house. The bag is best opened in the garage or outside, where you can deal with the dirt.

n Label everything. Socks, underwear, pillow, sleeping bag. Everything.

n Don’t be a fashionista. Pack clean, comfortable clothes to which the camper or the parent isn’t too attached.

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