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.