We are completely celebrating the return to summer camp around here. And I am celebrating the joy of putting together summer camp care packages for my tweens and teens! After the year they have had, the chance to run around with friends, swim, be silly, stay up too late, fill up their MadLibs with “edgy” adjectives (ha), read with flashlights in the dark, roast marshmallows and just be kids for a few weeks without phones and gadgets…well, it will be glorious for them.
For kids who love camp, and are able to return safely, it’s a really valuable step toward normalcy. And for parents like me, the chance to send care package gifts is my way of saying I miss you beyond belief! Yes, even after being virtually inseparable for a year and a half!
Because one other thing we’ll be missing are…visiting weekends. (Argh!) Both of my kids’ camps are skipping those this year in favor of a safer, more controlled camp environment without people coming and going.
In other words, I’m sure I’ll my care packages will be a little extra this year, especially because I won’t have the chance to bring them anything in person. Sniff. Hey, maybe it will get them to send me a few extra handwritten letters this summer.
A mom can hope.
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The best summer care package ideas for tweens and teens we’ll be missing even more this summer
Note that I’m including items here you can buy online from sites like Etsy, Amazon and Target, in part because you can have them shipped directly to your kids, which is pretty convenient. That said, I’m always a fan of supporting my local neighborhood shops.
Boutiques, clothing stores, hardware stores, drugstores and chemists — they all are packed with fun care package ideas (no pun intended) and you can wrap them up yourself with a more personal touch before sending them off.
Also, you can check out our summer care package ideas we last updated in 2019, but with this year being a little different, I’ve put these ideas together with The New Normal in mind.
Stationery and Stamps
Yes, this is the one care package idea that benefits me possibly more than my own kids. That’s why I listed it first. Ha.
I love this personalized camp stationery by independent designer August & Oak from Minted, but plenty to choose from there to suit your own tween or teen’s style and interests.
Minted can ship it right to your camper, or, if you’re sending stationery themselves, be sure to include some pre-addressed envelopes along with stamps. It really helps. (Why do kids hate addressing envelopes so much?)
One more tip for parents with reluctant writers: When my youngest first went to summer camp, a single-sided card like this cute hedgehog stationery was perfect — the limited space made “filling the lines” feel less daunting to her. Did I get tons of cards in the mail? No. But I’ve still saved the ones I did get.
A New Writing Journal
This Thoughts and Stuff journal by Seattle’s Noonday Design on Minted is so fun — and while it comes in different colors, I like the black and white version you can completely color in yourself. There are lots of journals designs for kids, whatever they’re into.
Another camp care package idea for tweens and teens is to send one of the personalized photo journals from Minted with a picture of the family pet. Aw. (Hey, maybe if your kid doesn’t write home to you, they’ll write home to the dog.)
Of course any spiral notebook or journal will do, like one from a drugstore or local office supply place — and you can always make it special by covering it with stickers. Which brings me to…
An Instant Camera…or your old point-and-shoot
When camps say no to phones, you can send your kid to camp with an old point-and-shoot you may have around, a disposable camera, or my kids’ favorite: The Also a great camera for camps that don’t allow electronics: The Fujifilm Instax Mini instant camera, which comes in so many amazing colors now, and the prices have dropped wildly since they were first released. A Fujifilm Instax bundle includes everything they’ll need, including a carrying case.
And don’t forget to send extra Instax Film, which gets more affordable in bulk. (Ha, Amazon is telling me “You have purchased this item 5 times” so clearly my kids are fans of the film with the fun borders.)
Alternately, you can send an old point-and shoot if your camp allows it. I tried to get mine charged and ready but alas, ten years later it’s not doing well. So I priced some new cameras and this Kodak PixPro point and shoot gets great ratings and is hugely on sale right now for $79, down from $120. I would only suggest you get a camera from a brand you know if you’re shopping on Amazon — opt for Cannon, Fuji, Kodak, Olympus, Sony over GRAMMOOPIX or whatever.
And be sure they have a memory card that holds enough snaps for the summer — kids are used to nearly unlimited storage, having grown up with smartphone cameras.
Group games for the whole bunk
It’s hard to even know where to start, because games the whole bunk can play is always a favorite care package gift with my kids. My 14 year old is so obsessed with Werewolf, that every year on arrival day, her counselors help her unpack and cheer when they get to the box of cards! (Kind of hilarious.)
Our older teens who like more…irreverent games love What Do You Meme. My 16 year old is a big fan of Over-Rated…and would be mortified if I sent her a deck. But she’d be thrilled too. Just know it’s up there with Cards Against Humanity in terms of content so be sure your summer camp is okay with that.
Table Topics also makes some teen-appropriate conversation starter card decks, though the to-go decks are a lot more affordable. And hey, there’s always Mad Libs! Especially for your tweens and younger teens.
Check out these posts for even more ideas:
– The best group card games to play with the whole family
– 5 fun card games for kids that our family is loving right now.
– The best family board games for summer travel
– 4 fun games that my older and younger kids like playing together.
Stickers! Or…Temporary Tattoos! Or…Both!
Shades from my own misspent youth, kids today are going crazy for stickers — to decorate water bottles, notebooks, letters home to friends, laptops, basically anything. Pick something your kids love, from anime to Stranger Things, animals, to Minecraft and Marvel Avengers (above), and guarantee you can find a big pack of them affordably on Amazon. Or, check local stationery stores or even drugstores.
We’re also long time fans of Tattly tattoos, and they have so many kid designs now it’s amazing, but teens might prefer the temporary tattoos designed by real tattoo artists. This is one case where I might spend a little more — the huge packs of tattoos on Amazon may be cheap, but the quality is eh. My kids love these.
A Fun New T-Shirt
Kids get sick of the same clothes, especially if they’re away for 4 or more weeks. Sending a new shirt that reflects their interests — sports, movies, theater, or even a favorite show they’re missing can be a big hit. Band shirts are so popular now, nearly every big clothing chain sells them pretty affordably, from Hot Topic to Target to Aeropostale where everything is on sale — the Run DMC tee above is now 60% off!
Art Supplies and Gifts to Get Them Doodling
When it’s quiet time in the bunk, sometimes the kids would rather draw, sketch, or doodle. I love sending a new pack of colorful gel pens, colored pencils (this set of 24 from one of my favorite brands is just $6.23 right now on sale!) or water colors brush pens along with some sketch pads — whatever medium your kid prefers is great.
If they prefer more of a “project,” check out paint by number sets or I love this cool mandala artist set, above, just $10 on sale right now! Adult or teen coloring books are also a hit — this anime coloring book could be a hit with kids who love Attack on Titan or Fairy Tale.
Personalized pencils for kids are also a creative camp care package gift idea, and they’re cheaper than you might think.
Alternately, we’ve always been fans of Boogie Board reusable writing tablets, and for younger tweens and kids, their tiny new Sketch Pals mini tablets are so fun for playing tic tac toe or boxes with bunk mates. It’s a care package idea that’s screen-like…but not actually electronic.
Fun craft supplies for the bunk
We’ve always shared our favorite DIY gifts and craft kits for kids to help them make their own gifts — and those also come in handy for camp care package ideas for your teens and even younger kids.
Friendship bracelet embroidery floss packs are super affordable and make a big impression — you can get enough for the entire bunk in the $5-8 range on Amazon or your local craft store. Print some friendship bracelet patterns and they’ll love it. (PS The boys in my teens’ classes love them too, so don’t assume it’s just for girls.)
If you want to step it up, Klutz makes this excellent all-in-one Friendship Bracelet Kit that my own kids love. They flew off the Amazon shelves on Prime Day but should be back in stock soon. Or better yet,
Why is tape such a hot commodity at summer camp? I have no idea but every year my kids beg for rolls of tape. Send some and your kid may be the most popular kid in the bunk.
New Socks. Fun Ones.
Fun socks are always a fun, affordable camp care package idea, because my kids always manage to lose half their socks over the summer for some reason. Isn’t it great that socks are no longer considered lame? It’s so easy to find fun socks for kids these days.
Books. (No better time than rest time for reading.)
Even kids who are reluctant readers all year get more motivated when all their bunkmates are buried between the pages during rest hour after lunch. Have your kid make up an Amazon wishlist for books they want before camp begins, to help you out.
My 14 year old packed up YA books including Cool for Summer by Dahlia Adler, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus, and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. (She thought it would be good to read a sad book when surrounded by friends.)
Or get inspired with these terrific posts:
– The best children’s books of 2020: All the award winners your kids should read in 2021.
– 10 books for kids that became new movies and TV series
– 7 terrific new YA books with LGBTQ+ main characters
– 13 great fantasy and adventure books for tweens
– 5 important dystopian novels for tweens and teens to inspire positive action
– 16 creepy YA novels for kids who dig dark themes.
A Set of BFF Necklaces
If you’re missing your kid and you think (hope) they are missing you too, there’s something really sweet about sending a pair of matching BFF necklaces or bracelets, so they know you’ll be connected together again soon. I think this BFF avocado necklace set at PuraVida is sweet. Maybe send it along with a snapshot of you wearing yours.
And hey, maybe it reminds them to eat their vegetables. Or uh, fruits, technically.
See more ideas in our roundup of the cutest best friend jewelry that goes beyond the split heart necklace. Just don’t send anything expensive, as you know!
Some Health and Hygiene Help. (Can’t help it, I’m a mom.)
Kids who are away for a few weeks will (hopefully) use up their bug spray to keep the mosquitoes away, so send along some extras. This year, evidently ticks are back with a vengeance (eek), so be sure to read our guide to the best, safe tick repellents for kids right now, like the top-rated mosquito and tick-repelling spray from Sawyer, above.
You could also send some Res-Q Ointment for any bites, burns, or scrapes they may get, along with Welly’s fun tie-dyed bandages— so affordable and perfect for summer camp care packages! But know that some camps are strict about sending even the most basic first-aid items, so check policies first.
Fun Snacks…If Allowed
I have one kid in a camp that’s a big N-O on food in care packages…then the other three in a camp that’s like, BRING IT ON PARENTS! If you’re in the latter camp, we put together a great post on 5 creative ways to send camp food gifts including these individual mini s’mores kits using a free printable s’mores kit label from Club Crafted. Kids may or may not be able to roast them over a fire, but they’re a classic camp snack either way. Be sure to send enough for the whole bunk!
Other ideas include Twizzlers, Smarties, lifesavers, Skittles, Pringles in every flavor (why are kids so obsessed with Pringles?) — the best bets don’t melt (so skip chocolate except for s’mores supplies), and don’t have individual wrappers so you can go easy on the waste. Also no gum. Camps will confiscate it immediately.
Cool New Facemasks, Whoo-Hoo!
If like my kids, your camp has added washable face masks to the packing list this year, your kiddo might get a little tired of theirs after a few weeks. A new one — say a Minecraft face mask for kids, after the huge resurgence of Minecraft during quarantine — is the best way to say stay safe out there. And look cool doing it.
Pictures From Home
Whether you’re sending pics of siblings, the grandparents, or a bunch of their besties, my kids are always grateful to get them. It’s the simplest of care package gifts for camp, costs basically nothing (you can even just print a bunch out collage style on regular paper), and it helps reminds your kids how many people out there love them and wish them the best summer ever.
Also, a subtle reminder of all the people they get to see in September is pretty decent incentive to get them home again. If your teens are anything like mine, they basically never want to leave.
Does your camper have a favorite care package gift? I’d love to hear about it!