We only get 18 summers with our kids, so I often get asked why my children go (or will go) to sleepaway camp when they are old enough. The answer to that is so simple: sleepaway camp was the greatest gift my parents gave to me, and it is the greatest gift my husband and I can give to our children.
I started going to sleepaway camp the summer I turned 10, going into 5th grade. I knew a few people from Memphis that were also going (a few first timers like me), but I had NO clue what to expect. I remember being so nervous as my dad drove me to the camp, but once we arrived, I was so excited that I pretty much told him to leave. I immediately got swept into the activities and was having a ball! My birthday was a few days into the session, and that pretty much sealed the deal for me. Celebrating my birthday with 200+ people all day long; what’s not to love? I spent the next 8 summers returning to our camp. It became my summer home and a place I looked forward to returning to at the conclusion of each school year.
Fast forward to having children of my own. As a teacher, I actually live for the summers with my brood. I love the lazy mornings we have, I love finding a few local camps for each kiddo that specialize in their interests, and I love trying to find fun things around town for all (or any combination) of us to do at “Camp Mommy.”
So why on earth would I voluntarily sign my children up to attend camp almost 4 hours from home for 3.5 weeks? The benefits far outweigh my constant missing them or the nightly refreshing of the camp app with pictures posted!
Independence and Confidence
My oldest has always been a mature and independent kid. She has always needed me, but also been able to handle most things on her own. But once a kid goes to sleep away camp, that gets taken to the next level. Kids go from “regular” independent to “almost self-sufficient” independent. My daughter unpacks her stuff for the session on her own, has to fold and put her own laundry away weekly, keep her area tidy, be a part of a cabin community and all it entails, in addition to the normal daily responsibilities like showering, brushing her teeth, and doing her hair! An extra perk is that when children see others eating what is offered (even with choices), the social part of mealtime comes into play and many kids will try new foods. My child comes home each summer not only eating new foods, but also making many of them herself! Doing all these things without her parents around brings a whole different level of confidence to her, and that carries her throughout the year.
While many of us try hard to give our kids a variety of different experiences, there are some that we just cannot provide. My afraid of heights child had no problem swinging from an alpine tower swing, which happened as a result of the encouragement of her cabin mates and friends. She also gets to canoe, do lake activities (like a blob – where she sits at one end of an inflatable pillow, while someone else jumps on the other end, catapulting her into the lake), raid the “closet” of a dozen other girls, bond with college aged counselors, do nightly talent shows, sing fun songs, make friendship bracelets daily, and also use her letter writing skills to write home (when she makes time for us)! Yes, I realize many of those things we can do locally, but not on a daily basis, and not with a dozen peers cheering her on!
There is something magical about the bonds made at summer camp. Having that shared experience of living together, working as a team, and problem solving together forms such a tight bond. For me, personally, the beautiful part of those relationships were that many of them were shared with out of town friends. We would hug each other goodbye, sobbing, at the end of each summer; and would arrange phone calls and send letters, then eventually that turned into AIM chats, and emails, and now we know that technology makes it so easy to keep in touch with non-local friends. My daughter has good friends that we get to see in New Orleans and Atlanta (as well as many other cities in the southeast), and that also visit her when they are in town! The girls pick up as if they were together the week prior, and laugh and share stories about their magical summer adventures. I know this is true, because at 43, some of my closest friends are the ones I met at camp in the 90s. Even if we did not live in the same city, or even go to the same college, our friendships are so strong and have lasted decades! Most of the bridesmaids in my wedding were camp friends; they are forever friends. The icing on the cake is when my daughter becomes friends with MY friends’ kids at camp. It fills my heart.
Good for the rest of us at home
When I tell people that my children go to sleep away camp, the responses I get are always such a wide range of reactions. Many are so impressed, many are jealous (as their kids won’t go), and many are just shocked that my husband and I decided this was something we will prioritize. People have said to me that they can’t live a breath without their children. Don’t think that I am cold-hearted and function like normal while camp is in session! I get it – I feel that way, too! But that is exactly WHY my family believes in sleepaway camp. Part of the gift we give our kids is the chance to enjoy being a kid and also learning how to be a kid on their OWN (with friends and the guidance of well trained counselors and staff). It also gives us a chance to focus on the kids at home (ours are younger and often fall at the mercy of the older kids’ schedules), and it allows my husband and I to have adult time. While we are still a few years out from all our kids being at sleepaway camp, we find that we have more time for us with older kids away. The gift we ALL get is that we learn how to branch out and be stronger – together or apart
While summer is only a few weeks in, if you hear of any sleep away camps that may be something of interest to your child – don’t shy away from it! It is a lifelong gift that keeps on giving. And if you need me the next few weeks, I will be busy refreshing the camp app on my phone looking for pics of my kiddo at her summer home.