Child holding a "hello" sticker up.

10 Ways to Make Summer Camp Drop-off an Unforgettable Parent Experience

Camp dropoff is the perfect opportunity to put parents at ease and to build excitement for the incoming campers. Getting everyone onboard with fun and welcoming activities creates the experience of a lifetime and boost spirits for the time at camp ahead.

Remember that campers who are new to your site or who have never camped before will come with emotions running the gamut from basic curiosity all the way up to anxiety. Even with exciting introductions and games planned, it might take some time for these campers to come outside of their shell. The more consistent the effort presented by all staffers, however, the easier it will be for these campers to feel comfortable and confident.

Whether it’s day camp over or residential camp, the first impression makes a difference. Campers and parents should have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and to learn about what the campers will be doing.

Allow counselors and other key staff to throw out ideas to make dropoff a better experience for all based on their past interactions with campers and parents. When every member of the team is on the same page, dropoff day or morning goes more smoothly.

There’s no doubt that most parents want to know what the experience is like before their camper ever arrives.

Tip #1: Leverage YouTube Before Campers Arrive

There’s no doubt that most parents want to know what the experience is like before their camper ever arrives. Allow some orientation and explainer videos to do the job for you (and post these on YouTube for extra marketing reach.)

While not every parent will take the time to view all your pre-arrival videos, the most diligent and concerned parents will, thus cutting down on many of the questions or concerns that would otherwise be directed at staff during the busy dropoff period.

These videos can even address pre-arrival issues like “what to pack” and “how to emotionally prepare your child for a day or week away.”

These videos not only introduce your camp and the overall camp philosophy but also increase the chances that campers arrive prepared with the right materials.


Tip #2: Designate a Specific Dropoff Location with Fun Surroundings

Live music, balloons, a sign, and excited staff should be the first thing that parents and campers see upon arrival. This gives a professional and fun vibe for campers and even gets parents excited about what their kids will come home raving about.

Sending a child off to summer camp is an investment and one that can lead to lifelong memories for the camper, but especially for those first-time drop-offs, a positive experience leads to repeat business, too. Parents enter your front gates with their own feelings of anxiety, but the pit-stop to drop off luggage or check-in is your opportunity to get parents looking forward to their child’s experience. This can even rub off on the kids when they see their parents getting interested in what’s ahead.

Whatever your camp colors, moto, or general approach is, this should be consistent across the drop-off process. Particularly for residential camp dropoff when many people arrive at the same time, this can help direct traffic and make sure everyone is on track to where they need to go.

Even if the dropoff location for your summer camp is in a parking lot, you can decorate and add musical and colorful elements to make sure people get to the right location.


Tip #3: Offer a Passport for Parents and Students to Complete Before Camp Drop-off is Over

If your camp location is large, new campers are unlikely to know where to go and all the things they need to do before parents are approved to leave. Take what’s typically a confusing or nerve-wracking experience and turn it into a fun one- provide a passport with all the top “stops” throughout the check-in process so that there’s no mistaking what they need to do.

If your camp check-in procedures require a specific order in which things are checked, note that on the passport.

You can jazz up the passport for parents by including fun facts about the camp, like how many children come there each year or unique historical information about the camp itself. A trivia quiz is another good way for a parent to entertain a child while in line, too.

Have staffers ready with stamps at each passport location so that parents know they’ve done everything they need to do before departing.

Award something fun, like a camp t-shirt or water bottle, for campers and parents when they complete this passport. This makes the process more enjoyable and keeps everyone focused on the important procedures necessary to get campers ready for their big adventure.


Tip 4: Hold a Skit Q/A Session Live

A funny skit with an opportunity for parents to ask questions separate from the campers allows the children to get acquainted with counselors, staff, and other campers while giving those curious parents a forum for concerns. Since there’s a good chance many parents have similar questions, it’s easier to address these as a group.

Children will likely feel embarrassed by their parents asking questions in front of other campers, so by splitting up camp attendees and adults, you’ll handle everyone’s concerns and make the most of time, too.

To write the skit, think about five most common questions or misunderstandings that parents have about camp. Once the skit is complete, allow a short period for parents to ask general questions about the camp experience. Parents will walk away with a greater sense of trust and understanding.


Tip #5: Have a Letter-Writing Station for Parents

Whether residential camp or day camp, campers love to receive mail! For a weeklong camp, however, the postal service might not deliver fast enough for parents to get their messages to your camp location.

While new campers are busy with health-checks and other required activities, give parents a chance to fill out postcards or letters that will be given to counselors for distribution during the day or week.

For residential campers of all ages, letters and notes from home can make all the difference for handling homesickness.


Tip #6: Host an Amazing Race Style Scavenger Hunt Tour

It’s often hard for parents and kids to separate once they get to the camp location, because this is often the first time that both parties realize they’ll be apart for some time. Give parents a bird’s-eye view into where their kids will be spending the upcoming week by hosting an Amazing-Race style scavenger hunt where groups of campers and their parents can visit prominent camp locations like the dining hall, tent or cabin locations, the camp store, pool, horse stables, and more.


Campers will feel more oriented in their new surroundings and it’s a great way to easily incorporate parents into the drop-off experience. Appoint a counselor or other staff member with each group to help parents feel more trusting about the personalities of your camp staff.


Tip #7: Introduce Parents to Counselors with a Fun Matchup Game

Parents are likely to forget camp counselor’s names in just a few seconds, but turn it into an exciting match game in which both campers and parents participate.

Using either baby pictures or a “fun fact you don’t know about me” for the counselors, have stations where parents trying to match up the counselor with their corresponding item.

For an added bonus, this can kick off your Amazing Race-style scavenger hunt by including a piece of a clue about where to find the counselor to start the hunt.

Put half of the clue on the back of each “match game” card on a bulletin board, or have campers and parents put together a puzzle of a camp map and a clue of where they can find the counselor to kick off the race.


Tip #8: Use a “What Are You Most Looking Forward to Poll”

It’s usually right at the camp dropoff where once-confident parents begin to question whether their child is old enough, social enough, or ready for day camp or overnight camp. Use this as your chance to nurture relationships by having students participate in a fun poll about what they are most looking forward to at camp. List 4-5 activities on a large bulletin board, building wall, or section of the sidewalk with chalk and allow campers to cast their vote.

Once parents begin to see how much their kids are looking forward to something specific following summer camp dropoff, the adults will feel a little more comfortable waving goodbye and driving away from their camper.


Tip #9: Provide a Big Bulletin Board for Field Trip Info

Make a big bulletin board to talk about details regarding any field trips off-grounds. Ideally, place this near the camp office and have someone there to answer questions.

When you draw a clear connection between what parents might perceive are the “riskiest” activities (like canoeing, swimming, whitewater rafting, and road trips off grounds) and have a responsible adult there to explain how it works, the trip and opportunities become a source of something to look forward to rather than fear.


Tip #10: Provide a Photo Booth for Lasting Memories

Use a simple photo booth to allow parents to snap pictures of the camper’s big day of arrival. You can post a mural of past arrival day pictures and pictures from children during camp next to each other to give campers and parents a taste of what’s to come.

While parents will probably take plenty of pictures of the child on the day of, the photo booth for one family shot is a great way to help otherwise nervous kids or those who are ready to separate from parents to get at least one picture of all the family members who arrived for dropoff. This memory will be something for parents to cherish forever and makes them feel more involved in the whole process.


Final Thoughts: How to Make Summer Camp Dropoff a Success

When it comes to summer camp dropoff, a little advance planning goes a long way. As an added bonus, staffers get excited putting on this series of welcoming events. Remember, they might be nervous, too!

By planning the events ahead of time, you’ll minimize nerves, introduce all that your camp has to offer, get parents and campers acclimated to the camp environment, and streamline all the common questions that parents ask. Whether your camp session runs for a day or multiple weeks, you can build a lasting relationship not just with the child, but also with their parents. Happy parents and campers spread the word to others, and this is one of the best ways to manage your marketing. summer-camp-dropoff

Expectations are high when families first pull into your parking lot and forming lasting relationships with the child and the adults in the car begins with how you manage the drop-off experience. Whether a residential camp for multiple weeks or a child’s first time away from home all day outside of school, it’s your job to set the tone for the camp.