Six tips for creating awesome care-packages for children away from home

March 20 | Guest post by Debbie4020
Care Package: Zombie Apocalypse. Photo by ShardsOfBlue, used under Creative Commons license.

While I was growing up, I spent a lot of time away from home. I can tell you now, whether I was away for school, camp, high school summer jobs or even when I moved on to university, nothing helped my homesickness and general well-being better than when I received a care package from home. I was recently helping a friend put together a package for her high school aged child studying abroad when I realized that not everyone was in situations growing up where they were receiving care-packages. From someone who was living by care package for so long, here is my easy to follow guide for building an awesome care-package, whatever your situation may be.

Make it personal

Regardless of how much I actually needed the items in the care-package, nothing meant more to me than the cute cards and letters I received with them. When I was working up at a camp the summer I was 14, my own offbeat papa stuck a sticky-note to every item in my package giving me alternative uses for the items (Ex: A book, perfect for smacking mosquitos; A bag of apples, incase you need to make sure gravity still exists). These not only reminded me of my dad, but also offered fun and silly ideas that made for lots of great pictures. Another thing I still remember was staying away from home for the first time, and reading the letters my parents had pre-written and dated for me to open each night. These helped me to feel loved (rather than abandoned like some children do their first time away) and to have fun. I still have some of the letters I received with care-packages and really cherish them as symbols of our relationship at the time.

Include something from home

Whether it is a framed picture of your family or a small wishing stone picked from your front path, the simplest of items can be the most teasured when they represent home. These can also help children young and grown alike to talk about home with the new people they've met. Having a small piece of home to work off of can also really help children living away to build their home away from home.

Wherever you are, your favourite snack is ALWAYS welcome

In some cases sending fresh fruit or homemade cookies is not an option, so many parents will avoid food items altogether. While it's ultimately up to you (and the regulations of where they are), it's hard to stress enough how AWESOME familiar food is when living or staying away from home. Even in situations when food was provided and delicious, receiving a package of granola bars, a box of Teddy Grahams or a bag of ketchup chips in a care package was that little kick of home that could keep me going. Also a good note is to send a little bit extra to allow for new friendship catalysts (one of my STILL best friends was met over some shared care-package cookies almost eight years ago!) or just general sharing.

Never underestimate the importance of daily items

When you open a care package and find a bottle of toothpaste the day after you ran out, nothing can quite explain it. While it won't always work out that what you send is the exact right thing, more times than not, your child or someone they know will be ever thankful for items that are sometimes seen as "too boring" for care packages. Examples can be (tailored to location and child of course): toothpaste, an extra toothbrush, shower things (shampoo etc.), bugspray, laundry detergent, toilet paper, a box of tampons, throat drops, tylenol, lip balm, sunscreen (and aloe or something for post-sun exposure), batteries, a box of bandaids or anything else (especially if they just took a "trial size" with them… you usually need more than you think). These items can usually be picked up from a dollar store for cheap.

A small "alone time" item

While sometimes parents and caregivers shy away from these items because "the point of going away is to meet people," if your child is not used to spending all of their time around people, a simple item that can allow for some alone time can really help a child feel more comfortable. Examples of this would be a book, a deck of cards, a colouring or activity book, a word search or logic puzzle book, or a small cross-stitch kit. If your child has a magazine subscription or monthly mail-club, drop an edition that came while they are away into the package. Anything that will allow your child to feel comfortable while taking a moment away will totally fill this spot.

Something they will be able to learn to use while they are away

These can be FUN but still fairly simple and allow you to be a part of their time away. Examples might be a compass for an adventure camp, a new notebook for a student, a skipping rope or new set of laces for an athlete, or a lanyard of your home town to keep keys, whistles, or cameras on. Some of the items I received to use while I was away I still have and use, including a bird book and a set of retractable highliters.

Above all don't forget: care packages are more than just boxes of items and letters, they are little pockets of love that everyone loves to open. So, whether you lived off care packages like I did or never heard of them until now, I hope you got some great ideas of things to send your children while they are away, whether they are away for the first time or away building their first home of their own.

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  1. I was SO thankful when my mom sent ketchup, of all things, while I was studying abroad in college. All the ketchup in South Africa was sweeter than I was used to, and that one familiar thing made me feel much less homesick.

    • This made me smile, because when I was living in Japan, my best friend sent me a jar of mayonnaise! I couldn't get in to Japanese mayo because it was so sweet.

    • My mom sent me peanut butter while I was in Ireland. They had peanut butter there, but it was the all natural mix-it-yourself kind and I'm a Skippy gal. I gave my flatmates their first peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They said it tasted weird. 🙂

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      • My Mom sent me peanut butter and Annie's Mac and Cheese when I was studying abroad in France, and it made my life.

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  2. These are also great ideas for care packages for loved ones who are deployed. I did some "themed" packages for my husband when he was in Afghanistan–like movie night (popcorn, powdered drink mix, a DVD, a blanket, and candy). He would have *looooved* the zombie idea too!

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  3. When I was in Japan, I received a box from my best friend that contained, among other things: a store-display box of Reese's, mayonnaise, glow-in-the-dark stars for my room, a customized word search with inside jokes as the search terms, Starbucks VIA, makeup wipes, and sunblock. It was fantastic!

    And when I was much younger and at Girl Scout camp, my mother would send me letters from the cats, Seventeen magazine, and occasionally Pokemon cards. Aah, memories.. I am a big fan of sending and receiving care packages, for sure!

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  4. Care packages are awesome. When my cousin was studying in Germany for a year we'd send her packages of sweets, an advent calendar we filled ourselves, or a scarf.

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  5. the best care package I ever got at summer camp was a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies wrapped in foil and then cushioned in a GIANT box of popped popcorn. I was super-popular that week, for sure. 🙂

  6. If the recipient will be away for a holiday, it's nice to send some decorations or other holiday-related items. My mom sent me these wicked false eyelashes for Halloween when I was at college. Also, baked good whenever possible especially if the recipient doesn't have their own oven and is at the mercy of a cafeteria.

  7. One of the best care packages I ever received during college included stickers, fruit leather, a variety pack of condoms, Lady Grey Tea, "gel gems" to decorate my window, drawings from the kids in her daycare, and a long letter, written in the same way my mum talks. I think she also included a twenty with a post it attached reading "beer and pizza". I try to do the same for my younger cousins now, especially around the first set of exams.

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  8. my best friend routinely sends me jello gelatin and pudding mix, as well as a few random "asian" things such as spicy tamarind candy, agar agar, or ginger sweets. it's incredibly smile inducing since i've lived in england for the past 5 years and really miss my jello!

  9. When I was homesick at summer camp, my mom sent me ziplock baggies that had cotton balls sprayed with her perfume and my stepdad's cologne. Their smells was a powerful comfort.

    Don't underestimate the power of a quick postcard; the contents didn't matter to me as much as knowing I was thought about. My dad was great about sending cards before I left so they'd arrive on my first days when the homesickness was most powerful. Other girls received letters on funny materials (like written on a balloon or toilet paper). Giving your child addressed, stamped envelopes and even fill-in-the-blank or questionnaire-style letters will up your chances of receiving return mail. (For example, "My best friend is — and I like her because —." or "What are your favorite camp songs?")

    A couple of other camp favorites:
    AA batteries, disposable cameras, flip-flops, hair elastics, newspaper articles. Be thoughtful about food — avoid stuff that will melt, crumble, or go stale and try to send things in resealable packaging to prevent bugs from getting in. Pringles, cereal, and Lifesavers were some of my favorite treats.

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