Sending a child to camp for the first time means facing unknowns. Parents – and their kids – have questions about activities, counselors, and all aspects of camp culture.

And some of those questions – what if my child is homesick? – can make parents anxious about the residential camp experience.

Yet several parents whose kids attended camp in Maine for the first time last summer said that the enrollment process – and the camp experience itself – minimized those worries. Their kids had the time of their lives, and came home demonstrating growth and confidence.

Ellen Cady of Yarmouth said her daughter, Hope, was the driving force behind the decision to go to Alford Lake Camp. A friend was talking about the camp, Cady said, and Hope “was hanging on every word.”

“I was excited for her to have that experience,” Cady said. But there was apprehension, she admitted. Hope had never been away for more than two nights, and the camp session would be 3½ weeks. In addition, Cady said she wondered if Hope was prepared.

“Had I taught her the things to do to take care of herself in an environment where I’m not very near her and her dad’s not very near her?”

Cady said the camp employee she met with at the Yarmouth office was “really empathetic and really enthusiastic.”

“I had to totally let it go and just trust that she would be OK. And she totally was. She went off to camp and she came back with all these new skills that she had gained on her own.”

Callie Brown, 13, of Middletown, R.I., attended Camp Arcadia in Casco. Brown’s mother, Beth,
said  the experience “exceeded all expectations.”

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anxiety, “a fear of the unknown,” Brown said. She addressed that fear by talking to camp director Louise Fritts Johnson, as well as to other parents.

“Something that made me really comfortable was that the camp has been around so long, has been in Louise’s family so long,” Brown said.

Yet dropping her off on opening day was stressful, Brown said. “My husband was incredibly uncomfortable. ‘As a father,’ he said, ‘I’m not supposed to be dropping my daughter off with strangers.’”

“It’s not like I dropped her into this camp without heavy research,” Brown said. “I knew it was going to be an incredible experience for her.”

Callie’s having had an auto-immune disease as an 8-year-old “put a whole different lens” on their lives, Brown said. “When you go through something like that, everything is a little more intense, and everything is sweeter.”

One policy at Camp Arcadia is that campers cannot speak by telephone with their parents for the first 10 days. Beth Brown said the day she got through on the phone with Callie, Callie was “super- comfortable.”

And at the end of her two-week stay? “She came back more independent, definitely more confident,” Brown said.

Johnson, Camp Arcadia’s director, said parents experience different types of anxiety depending upon where they are in the enrollment process. One common question is how the camp integrates new girls and new families into the camp community, Johnson said.

Parents are encouraged to enroll their daughters early to “get them into the camp family,” Johnson said. Families are given contact information for other families in their area and in the camper’s age group. Beginning in January, families receive monthly communications on various topics, such as homesickness. Come March, campers are assigned a pen pal. They are also assigned a big sister.

Parental concerns vary, Johnson said. Parents want to know how the camp recruits staff, and they also have concerns about their daughters’ abilities to take care of themselves.

“Great counselors,” serve as “great role models” in that department, Johnson said. “There’s nervousness. ‘Is my child going to be taken care of the way I take care of them?’”

Johnson said her winter staff works hard to forge an “individual, custom relationship”
with each camper’s family.

Melissa Lasher of Nashville has just such a relationship with Andy Lilienthal, director of Camp Winnebago in Fayette. Lasher, whose brother attended Winnebago as a child, has a 9-year-old son, Abe, who completed his first seven-week session at Winnebago last summer.

“We felt like we were really aligned with the camp and how to handle problems,” Lasher said. “We knew in our absence things would be handled really well.”

One such concern was homesickness, and Lasher said Abe’s counselors had “gone above and beyond” in supporting him.

Abe’s summer was a complete success, Lasher said.