His First Year at Deerhorn

We can’t believe it’s almost April! Summer will be here before we know it, and we will welcome home hundreds of  campers who know how awesome Deerhorn is.  But we also have 152 campers who will be joining the Deerhorn Family, coming to camp for their first summer at Deerhorn on their own. And we are sure they are also excited, but along with the excitement comes a little bit of fear and uncertainty. It’s totally natural, this fear of the unknown, especially if they are not coming to Deerhorn with any friends from home. (And trust me, there are many who come knowing no one and make friends quickly!) If you are a first-time camp parent, you might have your own worries and fears about sending your son to camp. So we put together a list of tips and hints for first-time campers and their families to help ease the transition and make his first summer at Deerhorn as amazing as possible. And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can call us at 800-713-3130 or email us at deerhorn@deerhorn.com. This is the first in a series of 4 blog posts geared toward first year campers, so stay tuned for the other three!

Thousands of boys have attended Camp Deerhorn since 1930. Every boy was a first time camper at Deerhorn at one point. Most first time campers have many questions and a few fears about going away to camp for the first time. There is also a separation anxiety felt by many boys and parents. All of these feelings are normal. Preparing for camp as a first time camper, or a nervous returning camper, is a very important step in you and your son’s adventure this summer at Camp Deerhorn. Every camper is different, but the following information will help get your son’s adventure off to a good start. Throughout this process, keep in mind that sending your son to summer camp is one of the best things you can do as a parent to help raise a healthy, well-adjusted, and independent young man.

Share the Experience

Parents should  include the camper in preparations for camp, like what to pack for his journey, and how to keep his gear organized. Take your camper shopping for things he will need at camp. Allow him to pick a few items, like a water bottle, sandals, or duffel bag, to help him feel involved. Your suggested clothing list can be found in your “forms and documents” section of your Deerhorn account.

Set Goals

Before your camper departs for Deerhorn, spend some time together creating goals for his experience at camp. It might be to waterski for the first time, or try a few new foods, or make a new friend from a different hometown. Have your camper write down his goals, and take them to camp with him. Include stamped envelopes already addressed to your home, and encourage your camper to update you on his goals in his letters home. When you write to your camper, ask about these specific goals.

Manage Expectations

Be positive about the upcoming adventure, but also be realistic. Camp, like the rest of life, has its ups and downs. Not every minute of every day will be awesome. Realistic expectations help set your camper up for success. Let your camper know that it may take a few days to get into the rhythm of camp life. This anxiety is a normal response to a new experience. Deerhorn has procedures in place to keep all campers active and engaged from the start, to help boys settle in as fast as possible.

Letters to Campers

Campers love to get mail from home. Some parents even mail a letter before their son leaves for camp so it is waiting for him when he arrives. (Camper Name, Camp Deerhorn, 3725 Deerhorn Rd, Rhinelander, WI, 54501) You can also email him at camper@deerhorn.com with his name in the subject line. Emails are printed out and given to the camper, but he won’t be able to write back. The cost is $1 an email from his store account. However, make sure to avoid the following: 1. Bad news. Your camper does not need to add worrying about home to his day. (If you have urgent bad news, please call and speak to a camp director about it, and we can decide together how to handle it.) 2. Great news from home, that may be more fantastic than camp, like, “We got a new pool. And, by the way we are at Disneyland having fun.” You want home to seem boring compared to all of the fun he’s having at camp! 3. Don’t send notes that may make your camper feel guilty for having fun at camp. “The house is so lonely without you.” or “I am so sad you are not here with me.” Instead, when writing letters, ask lots of specific questions about camp, new friends he has made, how he is progressing on his camp goals, and make home seem neither terrible nor particularly interesting. Focus on how excited you are for him and his great adventure, and how you can’t wait to hear all about his adventure and new friends when he returns home. Packages should only be sent if your child is staying more than one session at Deerhorn.

Communicate with Camp

Parents and camp staff need to work as partners in your camper’s experience. If your camper has particular challenges, or if there were major life changes before coming to camp, it is best to communicate openly with us about them. Information and suggestions on how these particular challenges are handled best at home and school will help make his summer experience as positive as possible. These would also be important to include on his health history.

Most Importantly

Under no circumstances should you promise to pick your camper up early from camp if they are not having fun. It sets him up for failure, and making this promise usually leads campers to take the easy way out, and only “try to make it three days”. Just like the rest of life, there will be good times and challenging times that campers and camp staff will work through together. Your camper is human, and the path of least resistance (leaving) is so much more tempting than putting in mental energy to stick it out. If a camper struggles to overcome homesickness, they gain resiliency, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. We have found that many boys that get through their homesickness, create a bond with camp, and return for many years. We often find that letters written home by campers early in a session may contain some sad feelings. This is also very normal, and following letters almost always are much better. (In fact, by the time that letter arrives to you, the camper has usually forgotten he even wrote it!)


We have often found that, children leaving home and going away to camp for the first time is as difficult for the parent as it is for the camper. Dropping your camper off at camp or the camp bus is an exciting, hectic experience. It can be an emotional time for parents and campers. These feeling are also normal. Let yourself feel however you feel, AFTER you leave camp. A tearful goodbye may bring on feelings of sadness and guilt for leaving you alone.


We don’t have a regular visiting days at Deerhorn. Parents are welcome to visit anytime.  When visiting Deerhorn, we ask that you call or email ahead of time to let us know you are coming. However, it’s honestly better for your first-year camper if you do not visit his first summer. Our sessions are so short that your son needs that time to really adjust to being at camp. A kid who is adjusting well and loving camp may find himself homesick and wanting to go home with you if you come to visit. It’s a gift to him to give him the time, space, and independence to be able to make himself at home at camp.

Your camper’s summer experience will be a time of growth for both you and your son as your son learns independence and you learn how to let him go. Letting go is hard for all of us as parents. We like to tell parents that your son will walk a little taller when he gets home,  because of his increased self-esteem. This does not mean there will not be struggles along the way. As in other life experiences, we often learn more about ourselves from difficulties than in times of bliss. With your support and guidance, and a positive partnership with camp, your child will grow in ways you never imagined, and form friendships that last a lifetime.

2 thoughts on “His First Year at Deerhorn

    Excellent insights and advice Amy. Hopefully, parents heed this advice and help make the best possible environment for their first-time campers.

    The growth in that first year can be significant, and put these young boys on a path to return and really grow and develop self confidence, independence and lifelong friendships.


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