Put Sleep-Away Camp on the Must Try List

This is the 1st in a 3 part series about why I send my child to summer camp. It first ran last June when my blog was in its infancy, and I had 3 subscribers. It seemed like the right time of year to run it again — especially as I’m starting to pack up Monkey for his 4th summer at overnight camp.

photo by Jill Butin Neuman

It happens each summer. People ask about our plans, and when certain folks learn that our child spends three solid weeks each summer at overnight camp, I am met with looks of incredulity and sometimes horror.

More often than not, people gasp and say things like: “I could never do that,” as if to imply that I somehow force my son to pack his trunk and duffel and get out of our house. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if I didn’t let him go, he would consider that the biggest punishment – ever!

Sometimes I get a variation on the theme: “I would never do that.” This response is extra excellent as it is packed with a little judgment, which I really appreciate. This response implies that I am somehow harming my child, perhaps inviting trouble into his life because I won’t be there to oversee his every move 100% of the time. (Can you imagine?)

When people respond this way, I sometimes get a little snarky and say, “At least this summer he came home with nine fingers.” (Insert a dramatic pause.) “Last summer was a disaster.” I know people  imagine pedophiles lurking around the showers or picture their own children drowning, their heads being held under water by rowdy unsupervised troublemakers. These are their issues.

For me, overnight camp was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me, and I feel fortunate that my husband and I are able to pay this gift forward to our child. Here’s what overnight camp gave me and continues to give children who attend each year:

1. Continued Independence. Each August, Monkey and his posse of buddies hop on the camp bus and return with a kind of “we-can-survive-without-our-parents” vibe. I once asked my son if anyone ever gets homesick. He shrugged, “Usually, our counselors keep us too busy to even think about being homesick. If it does happen, it is usually the new kids – but once they get into it and get comfortable with the routine, all that homesickness goes away,” then he added, “Plus, we take care of each other.”

2. Benefits of Communal Life. Living in a bunk with 8 or 9 “summer siblings” affords kids the opportunity to develop some amazing problem solving skills. If there is an argument, instead of a parent swooping in to the rescue, the boys generally have to work it out by themselves. That means using their mouths to directly communicate their feelings. Sometimes they aren’t so great at expressing the subtle nuances of their emotions, but – again – they have each other to lean on. If things ever escalate, they have counselors and Unit Heads to help them.

There are other benefits of living in a large group. Boys learn to respect each other’s property, tolerate each other’s quirks, and appreciate each other’s boundaries. Everyone sees each other at their best and their worst selves. Summer camp goes a long way towards undoing that horrible “entitled” attitude. The spoiled girl quickly learns when her peers have had enough of her whining. Kids are patient to a point, but when an entire bunk is angry at you, it is time to take a look in the mirror. Campers quickly learn that despite the fact that a person cannot always get what he wants, everything usually turns out okay in the end.

3. Time Away from Technology. Okay, so when I was young, there was less technology, but I still missed Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and General Hospital. These days, kids are so connected to their social networks, their email accounts, their Apps, the Internet, their Skype. They are used to the constant buzz-ping of each new text message as it arrives. Being unplugged from most technology allows kids to connect with each other, a valuable skill that seems to be getting lost a bit these days. My son reminds me, “We can have iPods, so if someone needs some alone time, he can just pop in the ear buds.” Staff members have told me that after a few days, many kids begin to prefer people to gadgets, and rather than tune out, they start to look for other campers to “hang out with.”

4. Connection to Nature. While our family is fortunate to live in an area with plenty of access to great parks, during the school year, many children just do not have a lot of spare time to go outside and play. My son says, “At camp, we are kind of forced to appreciate nature. It’s easy to forget, but once you start walking around, you can’t help but remember.” Camp Seneca Lake has over 200 acres to explore. Trails to blaze. There are squirrels, field mice, lots of ants and millipedes; there are raccoons and skunks and deer. There is a beautiful lake with a beach that consists of zillions of flat shale rocks, perfect for skipping. What more could a kid want?

5. Opportunity to Try New Things. I like to think of CSL as a “liberal arts” camp. Unlike sports camps where kids learn the skills necessary to specialize in one venue, at CSL kids have the opportunity to try new things simply because they have access to so many opportunities they may not have at home.

The “non-jock” can try floor hockey or excel at Ga-ga, a weird game I’ve never seen played outside of summer camp. There are plays in which kids can perform; an art barn where children can make jewelry, throw on the potter’s wheel, batik, make candles, draw, paint, make just about anything. (A far cry from boondoggle – although they have plenty of that, too.) At Athletics, they can practice archery, basketball, tetherball, softball, tennis, ping-pong – and any other land sport you can think of. The waterfront offers canoeing, wakeboarding, waterskiing, sailing, banana boating — even opportunities to swim-the-lake! Picky eaters might even try something new because the kids work up a real appetite trying all these incredible activities.

Did you attend  to attend overnight camp? What is your favorite memory? If you didn’t go, would you let your kids go? Why or why not?

35 thoughts on “Put Sleep-Away Camp on the Must Try List

  1. You forgot to mention the very best thing about summer camp!!! Sneakers, tee-shirts and shorts!!! No, I didn’t go to summer camp as a kid. However as an adult, I did have the good fortune to be a counselor at a church camp for a couple of years. It was the best experience of my life!!! New situations, new foods, new people–kid type people–who taught me more than I could ever teach them. Some place there is an old sermon about my church camp experience… And every summer when it’s finally hot enough to make me not care about broken veins, cellulite, hairy legs and pits, bat-winged arms, I get out my tees and shorts and say to myself, “It is summer and I am a kid at camp…”

    PS Two of my grandchildren went to camp last year and are looking forward to returning in another week. The boy has already decided what activities he’s going to choose–not a sit still one among them! The girl is older, just as excited, but knows as an older camper, some things are just a given–like being in the first swimming group of the day…you know that time when the water is calmer but a little cooler, when the body still needs waking with the soft kiss of the early morning lake…

    I love summer camp, can you tell?????

    1. Hi D’Alta!

      My camp was/is also a religious camp, and I have to say I never felt more connected to a spirit than in that place. There is something about worshipping outside in nature that is completely different from being inside a church or temple or mosque.

      And I’m with you, I’m a summer girl. Usually you can find me lying on my driveway trying to catch some rays. I know I look ridiculous, but I just need that heat to remind me of those good ole days.

  2. Thing 1 has been going to sleep-away camp for the past 2 summers, this summer will be her third. She can’t wait to go. We love to send her, it’s such a great experience for her. Heck, she can’t wait until she’s 16 and gets to be a C.I.T. (Councilor in Training). She’ll get to spend the entire summer helping the new kids adjust to camp life every week, and showing them what a great place being at camp can be. Like Monkey, she would think it the greatest insult / punishment if she couldn’t go to camp. I do love the looks / comments we get. It’s way too easy to push peoples buttons with retorts such as, “Why don’t you want to send your kid to camp? Thing 1 only halfway drowned last year. She’s fine! And the cabin fire was just a little one. The girls were able to put it out all by themselves.”

    1. It is fun to get snarky with people when they give me attitude, but around these parts, most people send their kids to some kind of overnight camp. There have been so many studies that show how beneficial it is to kids’ development, well — even some of those nay-sayers have even turned the corner by now.

  3. This is excellent, Renee! I, too, LOVED going to camp as a child for every single one of the reasons that you mentioned. I love, love, love to swim and my camp had a ginormous pool. I’m totally terrified of eel infested lakes and such! I also loved seeing the friends that I’d missed all year, and the pranks! Oh! The pranks…

    Those judgemental, snoots that give you “the look” when you announce Monkey’s camp plans have probably never sang silly songs around a camp fire, or made a fake letter addressed to Mike Hunt for mail call!

    1. Hi Sprinkles:

      I preferred the pool to the lake myself. But that was mostly because of the hot lifeguards that I rather liked back in the day. There seemed to be a string of them. Now the chicks run the pool. 😉

      I did love sailing and canoeing, too… but I usually worked it so that someone else was doing the work and I was catching the rays on the front of the boat.

  4. I would love to let my kiddos try this… we have a local camp that starts off with 3 nights and progresses up to 2 weeks to help them get accustomed to being away a bit longer each year…
    I would miss the hell out of them, but I *always* wanted to do that, and I’d love to give them the opportunity to try whatever they want.
    And you’re right… putting down the DS and the TV doesn’t hurt one iota.

    1. HI Lindsay:

      You would be amazed. Yes, you would miss your kids. Of course. But you would also rediscover yourself. Which is a really good thing.

      Hubby and I treat it like a vacation. We go out to dinner. Take little trips. We get to rediscover each other, too. If you know what I mean. 😉

  5. What??? You only had 3 subscribers then? And I was one of them!

    I went to camp as a kid – day camp until the age of 11, overnight camp ages 12-15. I don’t think I even thought about overnight camp younger than that, and I don’t think my parents offered it, either. We probably couldn’t afford it. Even when I did start going in my teens, I paid for part of it with my babysitting money. That’s how much I wanted to go! I went to a horseback riding camp. One of my favorite memories is when we took a 3-day trip out of camp. We carried our packs on our backs, tied our sleeping bags to the backs of the saddles, and set out on the trail just like the cowboys would have in the Old West. We slept in tents and bathed in the river, “showering” in our bathing suits in the cold water of a small natural waterfall. We had so much fun! The last night of our trip it poured and our sleeping bags got soaked. No one could sleep as we all tried to get away from the sides of the tent where the water was seeping in. The counselors slept soundly because they had their sleeping bags elevated upon bales of hay (for the horses).

    My oldest has been going to CSL for three weeks every summer since she was 8; her 6th season is now upon us, and she can’t wait to board that bus. She wishes she could go the whole summer, and we wish we could send her, but the family still has to eat! Our youngest, now 10, still hasn’t gone to overnight camp, but we have offered it. She just hasn’t been ready yet. She’s much less mature than our older daughter was. But I’m thinking next year might finally be the year. She just came back from a 3-day trip with her day camp, and she loved it. And her best friend is now at CSL for her first year, and her 2 week stint turned into 4 because she was having such a great time. What’s not to love? Independence, great friendships, awesome activities, fresh air and sunshine! Ah, I wish I was kid!

    1. Faith, you were among my very first followers. And I know this was like preaching to the choir for you. That said, I did change the question this year, and I was glad to see your old memories! I didn’t know you were an equestrian. I loved riding horses — although I did love showering after riding. Not sure how I would have felt about bathing in the river after a day on the horse. 😉

    1. Actually, they did just have an Adult Get-Away. You had to be over 21. No kids allowed. You also had to bring tons of alcohol. You know, so you could sleep in those awful beds. 😉

      Also, it was under 24 hours.


    1. It was. It is. I’m glad Monkey gets to go and I get to live vicariously through him. Recently, he told me a famous camp horror story about a guy named Derrick. I had to listen very quietly while he told it — in all its gory detail. But I knew every line. Nothing had changed. It was amazing. 😉

      I think I pulled off the super freaked out look. Not sure though.

  6. This post is so timely because doc and I were just talking about sending as many of our children to sleep-away camp as possible next summer. Bu-bye, children. Mommy needs space. LOL Seriously, I know I will miss them but it’s a great experience. I loved my time at summer camp!

  7. Ok – so when I was younger it was just a given. You went to sleep-away camp. Period. It wasn’t about if you went. It was about where you went. The camp representatives would come to your home and give a full presentation if needed to entice you to select their camp. It was a big deal. Now take that a step further and there was no wimpy 2, 3, 4 week camps that we were selecting from. Nope. right from the start. Off we went for 8 weeks. I did NOT like the first camp I went to. Downright was miserable. That did not stop my mom from saying. She picked the first camp. I got to select the second time. Ok, try again. I then proceeded to go for 6 years. I did not continue on as some of my friends did when I graduated from being a camper. I did however keep in touch for many years with some of my camp friends. Unfortunately, time passed and we all eventually went our own way.
    Now welcome facebook. WooHoo. There are sooo many links to the camp it is incredible. We connect as direct friendships, through different groups, etc. It is a connection like no other.
    I have been so fortunate to be able to give my kids the opportunity to go to camp. My husband still struggles with the idea of 8 weeks, so they only head out for a month. That however, is truly more a selfish piece on the part of us as parents. They are growing so fast and will be leaving the nest more quickly than we really are ready. As for them, the more camp the better.

    1. Rina:

      What an awesome recollection. I know so many people who say their parents forced them to go to camp, and they hated it. But you kept trying. (Or, at least you got to pick the second time around.) It is amazing how the Internet has helped people to find each other.

      Our camp, also, has a strong alumni group all over the world! It’s really incredible. I always out “Camp Seneca Lake” on my resumé because someone always knows someone who went there. It’s crazy.

      While I went to camp for the entire summer for many years, ironically, I am having a tough time letting Monkey go for the full 7 week shebang. He says he wants to go. I totally understand the not wanting them to go away for the whole summer. Once they go, they often don’t want to come back. (As was the case for me!) And since I only have one, I just can’t imagine losing our summers together completely. Meanwhile, he is ready to kill me.

      I told him hubby and I would consider for next summer. We’ll see. 😉

  8. I won a trip to bible camp (most memorized verses!) in Grade 4 and Grade 5. I loved it, after crying myself to sleep the first two nights in Grade 4.

    Those other parents are envious. Or helicopterish.

    Go Monkey, go!

  9. The counselors would punch and kick us and manhood was achieved by being in the group where the counselor beat you most. If he was not beating you the big kids would punch you. When you got home and your parents asked why all your clothes were ripped and you had bruises all over, you told them you fell down the hill and they would beat you for not staying close to the counselor and the other kids where it was safe. We had hi-tech too. Rocks to throw at each other. Your son goes to a stupid camp. But I suppose all “modern” camps are stupid and not “cool” when we went.

    1. Hi Carl:
      You know, there are stories of things like that going on at our camp, too. A bit of hazing in the old days. But not any more. Not it’s all koombayah — in a good way. As in there are adults making sure the children are not running amok a la Lord of the Flies.

  10. I like your reasons! Summer is a time for learning but in a different way. Yes, I could send my kids away for a sleep away camp. My brother and I went to scout camp one year, then dropped out, and my youngest brother never went to camp. My wife did band and church (I think) camp, but nothing else. My son is in scouts and has done camp the last three years. Though I am along as a scout leader, I see him for meals and an occasionally in the day, but he’s largely on his own. The first year we went the kids were homesick for mom (even mine) and this year the scouts (my son’s age) were seemingly unfazed by being away and had grown and developed friendships that would never have flourished except through camp. Getting away is a wonderful gift for a child, and their parents, too!

    1. Hi Clay:

      When Monkey first started going to camp, I contemplated getting my WSI again so I could be a lifeguard. Or possibly even working as a Unit Head in one of the villages, just to be near him.

      But then I realized he wouldn’t have the same experience if I was there.

      Like you said, our children grow so much in our absence. They figure things out. Like you said, when your son was homesick initially, but he pushed through that and now he is unfazed. What an amazing thing — to know he can always make new friends, that he can survive without mom and dad. Overnight camp — if it is the right place — is truly a gift. 😉

  11. I used to go away to summer camp – one week only – each year from the age of 8 to 13 (we moved away when I was 14, or I would have gladly kept going). I’m surprised people are horrified that your son goes away for several weeks each summer. I always regretted having to come home after only a week and summer camp was the highlight of my year.

    If I ever get around to parenthood, then I definitely want my child to have that experience, and I hope he or she gets as much out of it as I did.

    The husband has mooted the idea of boarding school. Having attended as a day student at a boarding school, I would have loved being able to stay there with my friends all week. A co-worker’s daughter is boarding in high school three thousand miles from home and loves it. Considering how old I’ll be when my child reaches that age, if my pocketbook and their personality are suited to it, I’d definitely consider that route too. I think, ironically, it can breed an even closer relationship between the parent and child.

    We’ll see how I feel about it when I have a living, breathing child to miss when they are gone. But summer camp – definitely.

    1. Keenie Beenie:

      Would you like to borrow Monkey for a while? I’ll bet you could be like summer camp! Here is what you can expect: constant begging to go on the computer, constant begging for food following by repeated asking to go on the computer. Rinse, lather, repeat. 😉

  12. How do you decide which camp to send your kids to do? We only have one in town and I’m unsure how far I would send them…

    1. Marianne:

      That’s a great question. For some kids, it’s about following their interests — so it might be about sports. My kid is more of a do-everything-during summer kind of kid. I looked for a place that had a lake and a pool, a place that had older, more mature staff members (read not 18 year olds) in charge. I wanted there to be waterfront activities (sailing, waterskiing, canoeing, etc.), art and drama and athletics and nature and camping — and this camp has a religious bent, as it is a Jewish camp, but there are Christian camps, etc. I actually attended this same camp when I was young, so I really know this place — although there have been many changes since I was there.

      That said, would I be willing to send him somewhere else? Absolutely! I live in New York state, and I have a friend whose son just returned from a camp in Virginia and another friend whose son went down to South Carolina. Both boys knew no-one and had amazing adventures!

      i think the main thing is to take your cue from your child. Does he or she want to go? Is he or she expressing interest? If so, start with a short overnight experience — maybe there is somewhere that your child can try a week or even a long weekend! Talk to the director. Talk to parents. Try to get your child to connect with ONE kid before he or she actually goes off. It is nice for a child to know ONE person. It can make all the difference. Best of luck to you! Start investigating now for next summer!

  13. Hi Renee. I didn’t go to overnight camp, except for the “camping night” at YMCA Day Camp. Then, we would all pile into a gymnasium with our sleeping bags for one night. I don’t think that counts. My friends and I had lots of slumber parties, though.

    When my son was 10, he went to boy scout camp for a week. It was the first time he was ever away from us and unable to call home. He really didn’t like it. This year, at 15, he’s riding to Camp Perry in Ohio with a college boy from his rifle club to spend two weeks at a shooting competition. Honestly, I’m more worried about his expensive (borrowed) equipment than I am about him. But, then, he is 6’6″ and doesn’t run into many folks who would give him trouble.

    Thanks for your blog. 🙂

  14. I have a problem with sleep away camps. I have a HUGE problem with them. The problem is that they don’t exist in the UK.

    My daughter has just been on a sleep away camp, she did climbing, abseiling, canoeing, caving, archery. All sorts of things, and she had a wonderful time, but that was organised by the school. She went with her school friends and some teachers in term time and it cost £250 ($400 USD). They arrived at the camp on Monday morning and they were home on Friday afternoon. It’s a lot of money and many parents can’t afford it.

    Most primary schools organise a camp every year, usually only open to year 5 and 6 (9 and ten year olds). Most secondary schools do not. My older daughter who is at secondary school will get the opportunity to go on a German exchange programme next year but that’s pretty much it. I really wish there were camps here like you have in the US.
    I took a group of disabled youngsters on an activities holiday for a weekend, I did the climbing and canoeing and archery. It was amazing. My confidence improved, my self esteem was better. I was genuinely proud of myself. I wish I had done it years ago.

    Even the girl guides and boy scouts don’t really do proper camping. Maybe a weekend here and there. I think UK kids are missing out.

    I have met a few youngsters in their teens and early twenties who have gone to the USA to work in summer camps. They enjoyed it very much. One chap went back three years running.

    1. No wonder so many Europeans come to the United States for summer camping experiences. All I can say is that someone could make A LOT of money if they started a fabulous overnight camp experience in the UK. KIds are totally missing out.

  15. Hooray for overnight camp! I loved going to camp when I was younger. Horseback riding, archery, swimming, cooking over fires, crafts, rock climbing, occasionally taking a shower in a water spigot. I even learned a bit of salsa dancing one year! The first time I went to overnight camp I was in fourth grade. I went with my younger sister and our Camp Fire group, we stayed for four days, and it rained for three days.

    Over the summers, more of my younger siblings came along with me, and we stayed for longer periods of time (the longest we stayed was two weeks, but we also had a week reserved for day camp). Every year it was so exciting to be reunited with our favorite counselors and meet the new ones, as well. The traditions were really the most important to me: singing songs, camp legends, counselor nicknames, Vespers on Sunday and Council Fire on Friday, even the rules.

    The summer before my junior year, when I learned that my camp would not reopen because it needed remodeling, I really found out how important it was to me. I learned a lot from my summer camp. That summer camp is still in the process of reopening, but during my wait I have continued as a counselor at my favorite day camp. I have been fortunate enough this summer to be the Activities Coordinator for that day camp (I have a few posts about it if you ever have a few spare minutes for reading). There is so much to learn from working in the outdoors.

    Fortunately, if everything goes according to plan, my overnight camp will be ready for campers again next summer, in which case I intend to fulfill my dream of working as a counselor out there! I think that is another of the most wonderful things about camp: it gets in your system, becomes a part of your life, and grows with you.

    1. Dear suchmeagerinsight:

      Hooray for another person who loved overnight camp! I hope you get to work at your beloved camp. I worked at mine for many summers — even as an adult where I worked in The Art Barn to help women with their projects during Ladies Camp Getaway weekends. Fingers crossed you get to have these experiences, too! 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop